Jury trials are expected to resume in the Halifax area early in the new year, now that the Nova Scotia government has found a location that can be adapted to meet COVID-19 restrictions for physical distancing.
The province is leasing 22,000 square feet of space in a building on Mellor Avenue in the Burnside business park in Dartmouth.
Justice Minister Mark Furey said Thursday the lease deal will be completed next month and construction will begin immediately to create two courtrooms capable of accommodating all the elements of a trial while still meeting pandemic restrictions.
"We're confident in discussions with the judiciary that the establishment of these two satellite jury trial courtrooms will meet their needs," Furey said.
All courts in the province virtually shut down in March when the pandemic first hit. Most courts have resumed operations, although they have had to make changes to ensure public health conditions are met.
Prior to the pandemic, hundreds of people would cram into the lobby of the Law Courts in downtown Halifax at the start of the jury selection process. And once a jury was picked, the 14 members would sit, shoulder to shoulder, in an elevated box off to the side of the courtroom.
It was determined that the Law Courts could not be adapted to safely accommodate jury trials. Other matters are proceeding in the courthouse, but jury trials were postponed.
As of last week, 35 trials had been postponed, including 12 murder trials. However, as Associate Chief Justice Patrick Duncan noted, more trials are being added every week and trials scheduled for the rest of this year would be added to the list of postponements.
Furey said renovations on the Burnside building should be complete in time for jury trials to begin early in 2021.
Jury trials in other parts of Nova Scotia were able to resume last month by using a combination of reconfigured courtrooms and off-site locations to accommodate the hundreds of people who typically show up for jury duty.
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