Courts will remain open for business (somewhat) during COVID-19
The operation of Ontario's courts has, like everything in our lives, been severely affected by the COVID-19 emergency.
On March 16, it was announced that effective the next day, live, in-person hearings of all types across the province would cease and all matters scheduled to the end of May would be adjourned to a date to be set after June 1, 2020. No new matters would be scheduled in the regular course until sometime after the court resumed regular operations. In extremely limited circumstances, the courts would continue to hear urgent matters on a discretionary basis.
This was an unprecedented closure of Ontario's courts, and was unknown territory for lawyers and the public. While access to justice is far from perfect in Ontario, and delays in securing hearing dates are more than familiar to us as lawyers, the ability to actually "get into court" is something that we never thought we would have taken for granted.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has now released updated guidelines as to what may be heard by each court remotely (by phone or video). In our practice in Toronto, we primarily deal with the estates court (at 330 University Avenue), and the family law court (at 393 University Avenue). The court has indicated that it will hear the following matters remotely:
The court will hear "select" motions, applications, and will continue to hear case management conferences, pre-trial conferences, and judicial settlement conferences. In addition, the court will continue to hear "urgent" matters on the existing basis.
At this time, there is no guidance as to the criteria making a proceeding "select". Presumably, those matters which cannot wait until normalcy returns, but are not quite "urgent", will qualify. There is no qualifier that any of the conferences the court will hear must be "select".
In addition to the previous "urgent" matters which it would hear, the family court will hear contested motions where there are "urgent" issues related to the health, safety or wellbeing of a child, and issues related to the financial stability of the family unit, including motions for support. The court will continue to hear consent matters of all types.
Implicitly, the family court has indicated that it will not hear contested disclosure motions under this regime. Parties who require judicial assistance to resolve a disclosure issue will have to wait, or consider arbitration (or settlement).
Both courts have indicated they will hear contested matters over video conferencing, and there are procedures in place so that the public may observe, as they are normally entitled to in Canada.
The full list of what each court, in each region of the province, will hear is available here:
While the court's normal operation continues to be severely affected by COVID-19, this updated guidance should provide some relief to litigants that they will continue to have recourse to the courts, in a limited fashion, until normal life (or something resembling it) resumes.
A roster of senior lawyers are available to act as arbitrators and deal with many of the procedural issues which arise during estate litigation, so that cases can continue to move forward. From our team: Karon Bales and Kristine Anderson are available to conduct virtual mediations or private arbitrations on procedural issues (at a reduced hourly rate) in the area of Estate Law. Karon Bales is also available on Family Law Matters. If you would like further information about this program, please contact Kristine Anderson (e. firstname.lastname@example.org p: 416-203-4548) or Karon Bales (e: email@example.com p:416-203-4540)
Bales Beall LLP is fully functioning, albeit, totally remotely, and available to respond to emails and speak over the phone. We are using the Courts when necessary and using alternate methods to assist our clients. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to any member of our team. Stay safe!