Court appearances for five people, including one charged with murder, couldn't go ahead Thursday because of a COVID-19 outbreak at the provincial jail in Shediac.
The outbreak was declared at the Southeast Regional Correctional Centre after four cases of COVID-19 among staff and inmates were confirmed. The first case was detected last Friday.
"Some individuals are being denied their appearances in court," defence lawyer Mathieu Boutet said in an interview.
"What we have been informed is that through their own direction, not through the court's direction, the Crown or the defence, that some individuals are being denied video or even phone appearances because of their current status or if they are being affected by COVID-19."
Boutet represents Anthony Miller on charges that include dangerous driving, failing to stop after an accident and assault with a motor vehicle on Oct. 16, 2020.
Miller is also charged with second-degree murder. It's alleged he killed Javin Melanson in Moncton on March 12, though he's represented by lawyer Brian Murphy on that charge.
Miller was scheduled to appear Thursday afternoon in Moncton court.
There had been indications during a previous appearance two weeks ago that he would agree to a plea deal on the charges. The Crown prosecutor asked for him to appear in-person Thursday and, if there was a resolution, that the facts in the cases be read to the judge.
However, Miller wasn't present in court when the case was called by Judge Troy Sweet.
Crown prosecutor Sylvie Godin-Blanchard told the judge Miller wasn't transported out of the jail and couldn't appear by video or phone. No explanation was offered in court and the prosecutor declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Murphy also told the judge he had been unable to call Miller in jail. The lawyer declined to comment on the situation after the court appearance.
The case was adjourned until Sept. 9.
Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Coreen Enos told CBC in a statement earlier this week that because of the outbreak "court appearances will be held remotely through video conference."
Those appearing from jail by video are taken into a room set up with a phone and camera.
We hope that this necessity is short-lived, however should it persist, the courts will be made aware in advance. - Department of Justice and Public Safety spokesperson Coreen Enos
However, on Thursday afternoon Enos, in another statement, said Public Health had directed there not be any movement in or out of the area of the jail where the outbreak took place, leading to five people being unable to make their appearance.
"We hope that this necessity is short-lived, however should it persist, the courts will be made aware in advance," Enos said.
Boutet said the issue also affected a sentencing he was involved with Thursday morning.
Boutet said it's problematic that people aren't able to appear in court even by phone or able to talk to their lawyers.
"It's an unacceptable limit on their rights to appear and their rights to a fair process, especially for individuals who are anxious," Boutet said.
"They don't know what's happening and most of these individuals just want to get on with their life. And essentially nobody, especially because we can't even reach them sometimes, nobody's explaining and they're in the dark."
Enos's statement didn't address why inmates weren't able to speak to their lawyers.
After the outbreak was declared, the inmates in Shediac with the illness were transferred to the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre, one of two jails the province had designated to hold COVID-positive inmates.
On Friday afternoon, Enos said the total number of cases linked to the jail outbreak has risen to seven. One person has since recovered.