Nova Scotia to establish bail court to streamline system

A courtroom at Halifax provincial court is shown in 2015. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
A courtroom at Halifax provincial court is shown in 2015. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government is taking another step to try to clear the backlog in the province's court system by creating a new bail court.

The court was announced Thursday by Justice Minister Brad Johns.

Provincial court judges will preside over bail matters during regular business hours while justices of the peace, which are lawyers appointed to oversee certain criminal law matters, will preside after hours as needed.

They will hear applications from people in custody who are looking to get out of jail while their matters go through the court system.

"This really streamlines, gives people a quicker way to be heard [and] granted bail," Johns said. "It also takes some of that out of the general stream so it frees up some of the courts."

Up until now, there's been no single court in Nova Scotia dedicated to bail hearings. Particularly in a busy courthouse such as Halifax, bail hearings have often been scheduled on courtroom dockets alongside other types of criminal proceedings.

In announcing the new bail court, Johns cited the 2016 Jordan decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, which set firm timelines for the completion of court cases. In provincial courts, that deadline is 18 months; in superior courts such as Nova Scotia Supreme Court, it's 30 months.

Cases in Nova Scotia have been dismissed because they've exceeded the Jordan deadlines.

Speedier releases

Johns said that about 70 per cent of people in Nova Scotia jails are on remand awaiting trial and the new court should make it easier for many of them to be released from custody in the interim.

The provincial government has announced eight new Justice Department positions that will be dedicated to operating the bail court. Four additional justices of the peace will be appointed.

It's estimated the court will cost $1.75 million a year to operate. An additional $227,000 is being allocated to Nova Scotia Legal Aid to help defendants at the hearings.

The announcement of the new court follows one Johns made a couple of weeks ago to increase the number of Crown prosecutors.

"I'm actually quite excited about this; first time in the history of Nova Scotia that we've done a bail court," Johns said.