A pandemic has an immense impact upon how a court conducts trials and hearings, including bail hearings, but Judge Wayne Gorman said it does not change the law that applies.
And that is the presumption of innocence underlies the concept of bail.
Gorman, who sits on the bench in the Corner Brook Provincial Court, made the comments in his written decision on the granting of bail for 26-year-old Zachary Ryan Alexander of Stephenville on Tuesday.
Gorman said the presence of the pandemic requires flexibility in how court proceedings are conducted. Alexander’s bail hearing was conducted through a remote hearing. Such appearances are not uncommon, but this one involved the use of multiple technologies.
Gorman sat in Corner Brook, while a court clerk and counsel for Alexander and for the Crown appeared by video-link from the provincial court in Stephenville. Alexander appeared by video-link from the West Coast Correctional Centre. A proposed surety testified by telephone from his home.
Gorman said the use of technology to facilitate remote appearances will become crucial if the court is to continue to function while the pandemic persists.
In this case he noted there were some issues. The video-feed from the Stephenville courtroom was very dark, there was background noise from West Coast Correctional Centre feed and at times it was hard to hear the evidence of the surety.
Gorman has raised the issue of background noise at the correctional centre before and said the centre needs to do a better job in providing an audio connection to the court if the court will be able to adapt its procedures to limit the risks to participants and staff.
Alexander was charged with a number of firearms related offences in July 2019 and released on a recognizance, which was later changed to include the condition that he: “report in person or by telephone to the RCMP detachment, NL, on every Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Identification of Criminals Act and provide them with your weekly work schedule.”
Gorman called that condition “ineloquently worded and nonsensical.”
He said they should be clearly worded so the accused knows what is expected and so the police and court can enforce them.
The Identification of Criminals Act gives police the authority to take fingerprints and photographs of an accused. The wording of the condition suggests Alexander had to appear for such. Since the condition was put in place to allow Alexander to work out of province, Gorman questioned if it applied when he was in the province.
Alexander reported by telephone on Oct. 4, Nov. 15, Dec. 6 and Dec. 19, 2019 while working out of province.
On March 20 he was arrested at his home and charged with failing to comply with the reporting condition and with failing to appear in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on March 2.
Alexander testified he thought the condition to report only applied while he was working outside the province. He called his failure to appear in the Supreme Court a misunderstanding as he thought counsel was going to appear for him.
Considering Alexander has never been convicted of failing to appear in court, his connections to the community and the presence of a suitable surety Gorman said he was satisfied he had established his detention was not necessary to ensure his attendance in court.
Alexander is scheduled to appear in court in Stephenville again on June 1.