Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19

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Jury Arrival and Departure

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The Action Committee on Court Operations in Response to COVID-19 has released this Tip Sheet to help guide the safe resumption of court operations in Canada.

This Tip Sheet is informed by Principles and Perspectives drawn from health and safety experts, the judiciary, governments and courts administrators - each motivated by a shared responsibility to protect the health and safety of Canadians in planning for the resumption of in-court operations.

It applies a phased method of risk identification and risk mitigation recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and previously released by the Action Committee in its Orienting Principles on Safe and Accessible Courts. This method involves surveying the various elements of court operations, identifying risks for COVID-19 transmission, and implementing mitigation strategies according to a hierarchy of controls. Physical distancing is the starting point of this hierarchy, complemented by engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and non-medical masks (NMMs), as appropriate, each of which combine to form an integrated and thorough approach to protecting health and safety.

Process Survey and Risk Identification: Jury Arrival and Departure

The operation of criminal jury processes differs by jurisdiction, location, and court facility. Common elements of jurors’ daily arrival to and departure from the court facility are described below, in order to help define risks and inform appropriate control measures. A more detailed account of these elements is available in the Action Committee’s Phases and Steps of a Criminal Jury Trial.

Elements of the process

  • Daily arrival to and departure from court - Jurors are typically responsible for transporting themselves to and from court for each day of a trial. Although they typically remain together during recesses, they may also leave the court facility independently (for example, to eat lunch or get fresh air). Jurors typically return to their homes at the end of each day. In certain circumstances, such as trials in remote regions, jurors may be housed in temporary accommodations (such as a hotel) for the duration of a trial.
  • Movement to jury room and use of common facilities - Jurors may access court facilities through common points of entry and exit or be directed to designated entry and exit points. They then proceed to jury rooms, where they congregate as individual (12-14 person) juries before being called into the courtroom. Jury rooms sometimes include male and female washrooms; in other settings, jurors make use of washroom facilities in common use areas of the building.

Hazards related to this process

  • Hazards relate both to jurors potentially contracting COVID-19 and transmitting it within the court facility, and to jurors being exposed to COVID-19 within the court facility and transmitting it to others in their homes and communities. Specific hazards include:
    • Poorly ventilated and crowded spaces;
    • Close contact and close range conversations between jurors, court and security personnel, and other individuals at various stages, including during the commute to and from court, especially if using public or shared transportation; when congregating at common entry and exit points; when using washrooms; and during breaks, either within or outside the court facility; and when returning to jurors’ homes;
    • Contact with common surfaces while passing through the court facility (doors, elevator buttons, etc.) or using washrooms.

Mitigating Risks

Accounting for each element of jurors’ arrival to and departure from the courthouse, the following control measures could be introduced to reduce risks of COVID-19 transmission and to help protect the health and safety of court users and personnel.

Physical Distancing

  • Maintain at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between people whenever possible, for example by:
    • Designating special entries and exits for jurors, so as to alleviate congestion at common building access points;
    • Designating separate areas for courthouse entry and exit, in order to encourage directional flow and reduce congregation;
    • Using markers or barriers to create walking paths;
    • Marking floors with distancing cues;
    • Blocking seats in waiting areas or other common spaces that may be used by jurors during breaks;
    • Staggering start times if multiple hearings are occurring in a court facility on the same day.
  • Consider using an alternate facility, such as a conference centre, sports complex or arena, or large community centre where available court spaces are insufficient for physical distancing.

Engineering

  • Ensure that ventilation systems of indoor spaces are operating properly. To improve ventilation:
    • Open windows and doors for a few minutes at a time during the day as weather permits and provided this does not pose a safety risk;
    • Run the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) fan continuously at a low speed to increase air movement and filtration;
    • Adjust building ventilation systems and air conditioning units to keep rooms cool rather than using powerful portable cooling fans that might increase the spread of COVID-19;
    • Limit the use of demand-controlled ventilation; keep the system running at the optimal setting;
    • Increase filtration efficiency to the highest level appropriate for the ventilation system. Clean or change air filters regularly as recommended by the manufacturer;
    • Consult an HVAC professional to ensure the HVAC system is suitable for the setting, activities, number of occupants and length of time the space is occupied, and before making any changes to the system;
    • If possible, run systems for two hours at maximum outside airflow before and after the rooms and/or building are occupied;
    • If possible, run bathroom exhaust fans continuously if they are vented to the outside;
  • Consider the use of portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters only in situations where enhancing natural or mechanical ventilation is not possible and when physical distancing can be achieved. Consult an experienced professional before using these devices.
  • Install Plexiglas barriers or dividers around stations for personnel monitoring courthouse entry and exit points. While such barriers do not replace the use of non-medical masks, they can provide an additional layer of protection.

Administration

  • Conduct daily health screening of all persons who enter the court facility.
  • Train designated personnel on how to conduct proper health screening.
  • Wherever possible and subject to applicable legislation, collect basic information on all persons who enter the court facility, to support contact tracing efforts by the local public health authority as needed.
  • Where possible, designate single entry and exit points, so as to coordinate directional flow within the court facility.
  • Create markings on the floor to indicate movement patterns, traffic directions, and places to stand in common assembly areas.
  • Provide hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol at all entrances and exits, and on desks and tables.
  • Post signage and instructions throughout the court facility to promote physical distancing, respiratory etiquette and proper hygiene practices.
  • Consider providing catered breaks and meals for jurors in order to avoid contamination risks associated with jurors accessing public spaces during the trial. Alternatively, encourage jurors to bring their own food and drinks, while avoiding sharing.
  • Provide information to jurors (via a common information package or guidance from a designated court official) on basic precautions to prevent COVID-19 contraction or transmission while outside of court.
  • Ask that jurors inform a designated court official of any concerns regarding possible exposure to COVID-19 in their homes or communities, or within the court facility, during the course of a trial.
  • Train designated court officials to respond appropriately to any COVID-19 exposure concerns raised by jurors during a trial, including implementation of augmented health and safety measures where appropriate.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Non-Medical Masks (NMMs)

  • Provide disposable well-constructed, well fitting non-medical masks (NMMs) for jurors, other court users, and court personnel, and promote their use as recommended by public health authorities.
  • Provide clear instructions to jurors, other court users and court personnel on how to safely put on, wear, and remove a mask and ensure masks are properly worn.
  • Provide appropriate PPE such as face shields, as recommended by public health authorities, to any court personnel who are required to be in close contact with individuals entering or leaving the court facility (for example, personnel conducting health screening). While face shields do not replace masks, they provide an additional layer of protection from eye contamination through respiratory particles.
  • Ensure appropriate safety training of any court personnel required to use NMMs and PPE, consistent with applicable occupational health and safety laws and regulations.

Get further guidance on protecting court personnel and court users and general practices for cleaning and disinfecting applicable to all court operations.

Resources and References

Document last updated February 9, 2021