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B.C. takes COVID-19 precautions as it moves to restart in-person court hearings

The Prince George Courthouse on George Street. (via Hanna Petersen)

Courthouses and courtrooms around British Columbia are being assessed to ensure they meet health and safety requirements as the province moves to resume in-person hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General David Eby says in a news release the assessments will determine what physical distancing and hygiene measures are necessary to prevent transmission of the virus as required by the provincial health officer.

He says each courthouse is different but it will mean disinfecting courtrooms after use and marking floors with lines to indicate distances at registries and inside elevators, washrooms and courtrooms.

The work is taking place now and the government says the expectation is a limited number of courtrooms will be available for in-person hearings within a few weeks.

The government has also been working on using technology to expand virtual hearings.

A statement from the B.C. Crown Council Association says the pandemic hasn't stopped the justice system from operating and prosecutors are making substantial efforts to review each case that is before the courts.

Association president Kevin Marks says his group feels the B.C. courts have shown "remarkable leadership" in responding to the pandemic.

"When the courthouses closed two months ago, everyone in the justice system took great steps to quickly overcome new procedures and technological challenges so that criminal matters could continue to be addressed through telephone and video appearances," says Marks.

The association says many members of the public who attend court are from vulnerable populations and may be at heightened risk if they contracted COVID-19.

It says that before the government allows more people into the courts a methodical plan based on public health directives needs to be implemented.

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