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Vaccine for B.C. court staff could prevent COVID-related trial delays: lawyer

Last Updated Mar 19, 2021 at 5:52 am PDT

FILE -- B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Summary

Vancouver lawyer says those working in B.C. courts should also be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines

Lawyer says each time court is adjourned due to COVID-19 exposure, there's a 'cascading effect'

B.C. lawyers not identified Thursday as among the frontline and essential workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines next

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A Vancouver lawyer is making the case that people working in B.C. courts ought to be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, saying each time court is adjourned due to an exposure there’s a “cascading effect.”

Francis Mahon says a murder trial she’s currently working on has been delayed eight times since September of 2020.

“The issue that’s been happening for me at least since the courts reopened last year is that anytime we have a COVID exposure —  either secondhand or because somebody in the courtroom has contracted COVID — we need to adjourn the proceedings, sometimes for several weeks,” she explains.

“What happens then, is that witnesses need to get rescheduled, my own time needs to get rescheduled, my client’s case gets delayed. Then there’s follow-on effects because of that because, of course, I’m not only doing one case at a time so when one case gets delayed, others inevitably get delayed as well. So it creates a bit of a snowball effect.”

On Thursday, B.C. announced that frontline and essential workers including teachers, police officers, and correctional officers will be vaccinated next month. Ontario’s Phase 2, which begins in April, includes workers in courthouses as well as probation and parole officers.

Mahon says she’s not arguing that lawyers should be bumped to the front of the line, but that they are essential workers. These repeated adjournments on even one lawyer’s cases have far-reaching costs and consequences.

“The cases that I’m working on, primarily right now, are murder cases. All of my clients are in custody, awaiting the outcome of their trial. Every time we have these delays it’s longer that they have to sit in prison,” she says.

“But of course it’s not just about my client, there’s also witnesses who are expecting to testify and they get postponed. It creates a lot of trial management issues for the Crown who needs to schedule all of these things. It impacts the families of the victims as well, they want to see resolution of these charges. So it has all of these impacts,” she says.

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Although some court proceedings have gone virtual, high-stakes criminal trials cannot be done on Zoom or by phone.

“Because of the nature of a murder trial, the client needs to be there in person, most of the witnesses need to be there in person. It’s a bit of a different category than some other types of cases.”

Mahon says is grateful she has not caught the virus, and agrees that those who are most vulnerable to serious illness should be prioritized.

However, her workplace is where she is being exposed.

“I haven’t had any exposures from my personal interactions, and I’ve been extremely careful in that regard. So it does feel that my job is putting me at a heightened risk, and then also creating these other systemic issues within the criminal justice system.”