P.E.I. judge says COVID-19 symptoms, tests causing delays in provincial court

·3 min read

A P.E.I. provincial court judge says he's noticed an increase in missed court appearances recently, with many accused people saying — through their lawyers — that they have symptoms of COVID-19, or are awaiting coronavirus test results.

Judge Jeff Lantz says it got to the point where he decided to hold a special sitting to try and address it.

"There were a certain number of them that were alleging COVID symptoms and saying they were waiting for tests," said Lantz. "It was a little bit of a concern, so I held a special sitting in the court … I asked them all to come in, provide evidence of testing, if they were being tested, or telling them to go get tested. And that seemed to help a bit."

Lantz said there are numerous reasons why someone might want to delay a court appearance. It could be a desire to delay a conviction or guilty plea that would see them headed to jail, or a fear of experiencing serious withdrawal while imprisoned for those battling addiction to drugs.

Lantz said whatever the reason for the delays, missed appearances slow down the process, and can be frustrating for everyone involved — especially any victims, who are anxious to see matters resolved. And he hopes that from now on, there will be fewer missed appearances by those claiming to have symptoms of COVID-19.

"In any event, I think we got their attention," said Lantz, who said everyone who comes to provincial court is screened for symptoms of COVID-19. He said the courts will likely follow up with individuals in cases where multiple appearances are missed.

"A suggestion might be made that they get tested, especially if they're coming back week after week saying they're still sick, then we want some sort of medical evidence."

'A new way of doing things'

Lantz said delays in court have come in many forms since the onset of the pandemic, whether it's waiting to connect with a prisoner via video-link, or trying to arrange matters with offenders or lawyers in other provinces. But he said those processes have become a lot smoother in recent months.

"We've got actually two video rooms at the jail now, which helps out because we were kind of fighting over video times with other courts and judges and that made it hard to get things done," said Lantz.

Especially if they're coming back week after week saying they're still sick, then we want some sort of medical evidence. - Judge Jeff Lantz

Right now, due to public health restrictions and wanting to minimize risk, the courts are limiting the number of people who appear in person, and handling more matters via video conference — something Lantz believes will only increase in frequency, even once the pandemic is over.

"We've been looking at doing video appearances for some time now and had been hoping to have it in before COVID, so this kind of accelerated the need for that," said Lantz, who recently completed a preliminary inquiry via video with a person in custody and their lawyer in Moncton.

He said the courts are looking into doing trials over video as well.

"It's a new way of doing things. We're learning as we go, but it seems to be working," said Lantz.

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