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Hundreds of postponed cases due to St. John's Jan. 17 snowstorm, jury selection for murder trial set to go ahead in court Monday

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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

As the state of emergency restrictions are lifted in St. John's and things get back to normal, court staff are likely to have their hands full.

The Department of Justice and Public Safety posted on Twitter Friday, telling anyone who had a scheduled provincial court appearance cancelled due to the Jan. 17 snowstorm and subsequent week-long closure of the courts that they should appear at the same time on the first day court reopens. That day is Monday, and between trials, sentencings, applications, hearings and other proceedings, it means hundreds of cases.

That doesn't include the cases of those arrested over the past week — who have already made their first court appearance by video before a judge in Corner Brook — who are seeking bail. Nor does it include Monday's regularly scheduled proceedings.

Most of the matters are set for quick status updates, lasting three minutes or less before a judge and allowing a lawyer to appear in an accused person's place if they've arranged it in advance.

Anyone who doesn't make those arrangements and doesn't show up risks a charge of failing to appear in court and a warrant issued for their arrest.

The province's courts are often closed for snow days, but this is first time in recent history the courts been closed for a full week because of snow.

"I think the main problem is going to be an administrative bottleneck," said defence lawyer Bob Buckingham. "I don't think there'll be any huge delays (in proceedings) because this is happening."

Buckingham expects the priority will be setting new dates for those in custody awaiting trial and for cases approaching Jordan deadlines.

The 2016 Jordan decision set an 18-month deadline for cases to be heard in provincial courts (30 months for superior courts), after which an accused can apply to have their charges dismissed. A Jordan application can only be successful if delays are proven to not have been the fault of the defence, as well as foreseeable and unreasonable.

A state of emergency is undoubtedly considered unforeseeable and reasonable, Buckingham said.

Matters that were scheduled to be heard in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's last week will be called at 10 a.m. on the day court opens, at the same time jury selection will take place for the second-degree murder trial of Philip Butler. Once a jury is chosen, the trial, expected to last about two weeks, will begin.

Butler, 37, is accused of killing his older brother, George, on May 21, 2018. Police were called to Butler's C.B.S. home in response to a call for assistance, and found George, 43, dead inside.

Other major cases scheduled for Supreme Court on Monday include that of Brandon Quilty, who is due to be sentenced for a 2017 car crash that killed 27-year-old Justin Murrins; the matter of Justin Wiseman, accused in connection with a standoff and arson in Mount Pearl in 2018; and the sexual assault trial of another man.

"It will be very, very busy in the first couple of days courts reopen following the SOE and everyone should expect some delays. The courts have contingency plans for these types of situations and those plans have been put into place," the Department of Justice and Safety tweeted Friday.

The department did not reply to The Telegram's emailed request for an elaboration on the plan, and a number of court staff said they were unaware one had been implemented. Other staff members said they had been told, in the case of provincial court matters, cases had been divided and organized into specific courtrooms.

Twitter: @Tara Bradbury



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