UPDATE: MAY 14, 2020
On May 13, 2020, Chief Justice Morawetz issued a Notice to the Profession, Litigants, Accused Persons and Public expanding the scope of matters to take place virtually in the Superior Court of Justice. The Notice also provides a compilation of the previous Notices issued since the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Notice summarizes, among other things, that on March 15, 2020, Chief Justice Morawetz issued a Notice suspending Court operations, effective March 17, 2020. The Notice specified that only “urgent” matters would proceed virtually.
On April 2, 2020, a further Notice was issued expanding the scope of matters to proceed virtually to include pre-trial conferences, Rule 7 motions for approval of settlement in writing and consent motions in writing.
The recent May 13, 2020 Notice directs the public to various regional Notices that are now available, and which outline further, region-specific, expansions of Court services. Notably, in the East Region, effective May 19, 2020, the Court will begin scheduling a number of non-urgent civil matters to proceed virtually. The Notice for the East Region effective May 19, 2020 can be found here.
In particular, the Notice for the East Region stipulates that, in addition to urgent matters, pretrial conferences, Rule 7 motions in writing and consent motions in writing, the East Region will now also deal with the following matters virtually:
- contested motions and applications made in writing,
- urgent matters under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, and,
- requests for appointment of class proceedings judges.
At the discretion of the judge, the Court will also schedule the following matters to proceed virtually:
- contested motions and applications (at the request of a party),
- motions and applications that were commenced and adjourned.
The expansion of virtual Court services comes at an opportune time, as a Notice issued May 5, 2020 recently advised that the Superior Court of Justice not resume in-person hearings until at least July 6, 2020, and jury trials will not take place until at least September. Where possible, counsel and parties should consider moving civil matters forward virtually now, as significant delays due to judicial backlog are likely once in-person proceedings resume.
APRIL 21, 2020 – Suspension of Court Operations Update
On April 20, 2020, Chief Justice Geoffrey B, Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court issued a Notice to the Profession, Public, Accused Persons and the Media Regarding the Suspension of Criminal and Civil Jury Trials.
The Notice advises that criminal or civil jury selection or jury trials scheduled to be heard in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice are suspended until at least September 2020. The Court will monitor the situation and provide further direction in early May.
The Notice also states that it will be for each region of the Court to decide how to reschedule to civil jury trials that would have been heard during this period. Details regarding rescheduling will be provided in regional Notices to the Profession. The Notice is silent as to how criminal jury trials will be rescheduled, however, notes that criminal matters scheduled for trial or other reason in June will remain in place until further direction.
UPDATE: MARCH 26, 2020 – Kingston and Napanee Courts planning for a June 2020 resumption
On March 25, 2020, Justices Trousdale, Tranmer and Mew issued a Notice to the Profession and Parties for the City of Kingston and Counties of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington outlining the plan for anticipated return to operations for the Superior Court of Justice at Kingston and Napanee. The Notice provides additional information and clarification to the Notice to the Profession issued March 15, 2020.
In Kingston, unless a further Order is made, all civil short motions, long motions, pre-trial conferences and trials currently scheduled to proceed between March 17, 2020 and June 5, 2020 that are not determined to be urgent are adjourned to be spoken to on June 11, 2020. For Napanee, such civil matters will be spoken to on June 12, 2020. Whether a matter is “urgent” is to be determined by a Judge upon request.
Kingston family proceedings currently scheduled to proceed in March 2020 will be spoken to on June 9, 2020. Matters scheduled in April 2020 will be spoken to on June 10, 2020 and those scheduled in May 2020 will be spoken to on June 11, 2020. All Napanee proceedings currently scheduled in March 2020, April 2020 and May 2020 will be spoken to on June 8, 2020.
The Notice provides greater certainty for lawyers and litigants and will allow counsel to better serve their clients by clarifying which matters require immediate preparation. At a time of many uncertainties, the Notice will come as a great relief to legal professionals in the City of Kingston and Counties of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.
Original Post – March 23, 2020
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently announced that it would be suspending a number of its operations due to the novel COVID-19 pandemic. The official Notices to the Profession, the Public and the Media can be found on the Superior Court of Justice website.
On March 15, 2020, a Notice was released advising that criminal, family law and civil operations for the Superior Court of Justice were suspended “until further notice”. Following suit, on March 16, 2020, the Superior Court of Justice Small Claims Court also announced a suspension of operations. While regular operations are suspended, the Courts will continue to hear urgent matters.
With respect to criminal matters, the Superior Court of Justice has provided a clear plan to resume regular operations. The suspension will take place from March 17, 2020 until June 2, 2020. All accused with appearances scheduled for March of 2020 must report on June 2, 2020. Accused with appearances scheduled for April of 2020 must appear on June 3, 2020 and accused with appearances scheduled for May of 2020 must appear June 4, 2020.
For civil, family and Small Claims Court proceedings, the suspension is indefinite and the plan to resume regular operations is much less clear.
Most likely to prevent a cascade of adjournments, the Superior Court of Justice announced its anticipation of a “Return to Operations Scheduling Court” for adjourned matters. As such, it appears, for the time being, that once Courts resume regular operations, matters that were not adjourned due to the suspension of operations will simply proceed in accordance with the regular, scheduled timeline.
No date has been provided for the reopening of the civil, family law and Small Claims Courts. Therefore, there is currently no way of knowing whether a trial scheduled in June, for instance, will proceed. Lawyers must accordingly find a way to balance their clients’ interests by protecting their claims while also considering the costs of preparation.
Lawyers and litigants have been advised to not attend the courthouse. For now, the court filing office remains open, however, in Kingston, the filing office is operating on reduced hours.
At first it was unclear whether limitation dates for filing would still apply. However, on March 20, 2020, an Order under s. 7.1(2) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act was released informing the public that all limitation periods established by any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or Order to the Government of Ontario shall be suspended for the duration of the emergency, retroactive to March 16, 2020. It also provides that any provision of any statute, regulation, rule, by-law or Order of the Government establishing any period of time which any step must be taken in any proceeding in Ontario shall be suspended for the duration of the emergency, subject to the discretion of the Court, tribunal or other decision-maker responsible. As many process serving companies are currently operating with reduced staff, if at all, these measures are essential.
The Order raises two potential ambiguities. First, the Order currently applies “for the duration of the emergency”, which we do not know how long will last. Second, pursuant to s. 7.1(4) of the EMCPA, the Order is only effective for 90 days unless renewed. It is unclear at this time whether a renewal is expected.
To be prudent, lawyers should remain prepared to proceed with regular operations, which could resume at any time. By continuing to prepare for Court proceedings, adhering to limitations dates and continuing to move files forward, we can all do our best to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and any potential judicial backlog to come.