HALIFAX -- Criminal jury trials will be able to resume safely in Nova Scotia, as the Department of Justice has announced plans to create two new satellite courtrooms for the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

In a news release, the Department of Justice says it has secured about 22,000 square feet of leased space on Mellor Dr. in Dartmouth, N.S.

That space will be converted to safely accommodate two satellite jury courtrooms, including space for jury selections, which can include up to 200 potential jurors.

"The continued operation of the province's courts has been a priority since the onset of COVID-19," said Mark Furey, Nova Scotia's attorney general and minister of justice. "This space will allow for the safe return of in-person criminal jury trials in metro Halifax for counsel, accused, victims, witnesses, jurors, court staff and members of the judiciary." 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all jury trials in the province were suspended until Sept. 8, at which time courthouses and courtrooms were assessed for their capacity to accommodate in-person matters in compliance with public health guidelines.

At that time, it was determined that the four criminal jury courtrooms at the Law Courts in Halifax were not large enough to accommodate criminal jury trials, creating the need for a new space. 

"The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the right of accused individuals to be tried within a reasonable time; equally important are the rights of the victims and families involved in these matters. I want to thank the province for its co-operation in securing an appropriate venue for jury trials,” said Deborah Smith, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

The new Dartmouth courtrooms will be built to ensure physical distancing, and staff will only be onsite when jury selections and trials are underway.