As provincial court in St. John’s was getting back into a new style of regular operations this week, it came upon a new non-COVID-19-related obstacle, causing cases to be postponed.
The air conditioner broke, leaving the courtrooms and inmate holding cells sweltering in the summer heat.
As a result, in-person trials and certain other matters set to happen at Atlantic Place Thursday were rescheduled.
Thursday was the first plea day at provincial court in St. John's since the COVID-19 pandemic shut the court for all but urgent matters for almost three months. In pre-coronavirus times, that meant dozens and dozens of people accused of crimes and their lawyers were scheduled to make quick morning appearances in Courtroom No. 5. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, those proceedings were held instead in the Beothuk Building at 20 Crosbie Rd., in order for the court to be able to comply with current social distancing guidelines.
Despite the court having publicized the change over the past two weeks, a number of people set to appear before a judge showed up at Atlantic Place instead before being directed by sheriffs to the alternate location.
The Crosbie Road building will house all morning plea sessions scheduled for Courtroom No. 5 for the foreseeable future.
Various new protocols have been implemented at provincial court in light of the pandemic. Elevators are limited to one person at a time, while six-foot intervals are clearly marked on courtroom seating areas. Microphones in the courtrooms are covered with disposable plastic, and the desks are sanitized after every hearing. Courtroom attendance is limited to people participating in the proceedings.
A plexiglass booth has been set up at the court entrance, where sheriffs ask each visitor a series of screening questions related to the coronavirus before instructing them to don a face mask and sanitize their hands.
Everyone attending court — including lawyers, court staff and reporters — are required to wear a mask as long as they are there.
Between provincial court and Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court, the COVID-19 lockdown has caused a backlog of thousands of cases around the province.