Thumbs up for possible Halifax, Dartmouth courthouse merger

The Nova Scotia Justice Department is considering a proposal to merge the provincial courts in Halifax and Dartmouth.

If approved, the Halifax courthouse would need to expand to accommodate both provincial courts.

“One consolidated provincial court in Halifax Regional Municipality would reduce costs to the taxpayer, reduce wait times for cases, enhance safety of all participants, and improve court access and efficiency,” said Justice Minister Ross Landry in a release.

“There is increasing pressure on the two courts to meet the demand of the justice system. Over the past five years, there has been a substantial increase in the number and complexity of court hearings at both locations. Without changes, these two courthouses will have difficulty continuing to meet this demand.”

Josh Arnold, a Halifax criminal lawyer and president of the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association, says a new, modern facility is needed for Nova Scotia’s provincial courts.

“The provincial court in Halifax is very dated, and, among other things, security is an issue, the size of the courthouse is an issue, facilities for barristers is an issue — it’s quite antiquated,” Arnold tells Legal Feeds.

He says the Dartmouth building wasn’t originally intended to be a courthouse, therefore security and other elements are lacking, causing the facility to be inefficient at times.

The Halifax courthouse on Spring Garden Road was built 160 years ago and houses six courtrooms. The courthouse in Dartmouth has five courtrooms. A 1996 study revealed that it would be feasible for the province to renovate the Halifax courthouse and build a new accompanying building.

Another issue with the current courthouses, says Arnold, is that oftentimes matters are scheduled at the same time at both locations, making it tricky for clients and lawyers to attend.

“[I]t can be very difficult trying to juggle travelling from one courthouse to the other because they’re not in the same part of the city. So if matters were all in one location, just pragmatically speaking, it would be much easier,” he says.

Arnold also says the security at the courthouses could use an update.

“Security and prisoner transport . . . the buildings that the two courthouses are in right now really were never made with those things in mind,” he says. “So I think that there’s a lot that they can improve on if they start at square one.”

Landry said the process of determining whether to consolidate the provincial courts is still in its early stages as the proposal has yet to be approved.

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