Alberta’s top trial judge says improved technology could reduce court backlog from COVID-19

Alberta’s top trial judge says the justice system is working towards reducing a rising backlog of cases brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of measures have been taken to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, including suspending jury selections, jury trials and, more recently, all sittings.

READ MORE: Alberta restricts access to courthouses to reduce spread of COVID-19

Now, only emergency or urgent matters are being heard, usually via video conferencing.

Mary Moreau, chief justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, says she is concerned that court operations being shut down will result in a backlog of criminal cases, but she points out that has happened before.

She says a delay of two to three years in appointing new judges contributed to the courts getting behind on many criminal and civil matters.

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Moreau says amendments to the Criminal Code since then mean participants are now allowed to work remotely on criminal matters.

READ MORE: Some Alberta convicts move to house arrest to mitigate COVID-19 risk: official

She says that’s allowing some less serious matters to be dealt with during the COVID-19 crisis.

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“I want to move our ship further out of the harbour we’ve been in for the last three weeks into the less urgent matters,” she said at an availability with media on Tuesday. “More actively in criminal matters, where matters can be disposed of summarily.”

Moreau said she wants to clear the decks “for what will be the time when we’re going to have to prioritize our criminal trials and our criminal in-custody matters.”

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