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Ontario Superior Court suspends all operations including criminal cases

Monday, March 16, 2020 @ 4:19 PM | By John Chunn


To protect the health and safety of all court users and to help contain the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the Superior Court of Justice announced that it is suspending all regular operations, effective March 17 and until further notice.

All criminal, family and civil matters scheduled to be heard on or after March 17 are adjourned. 

According to the court’s notice to the profession, by order of Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz, for any accused person who has a criminal matter scheduled for any type of appearance in the Superior Court of Justice between March 17 and June 2, that matter is adjourned, unless directed otherwise by the court. To preserve jurisdiction, for all accused persons who have been scheduled to appear between March 17 and June 1, a bench warrant with discretion will issue as of the date the person is scheduled to appear, pursuant to s. 597 (4) of the Criminal Code.

Accordingly, accused persons with matters scheduled in the Superior Court of Justice in the month of March 2020:
  • Are adjourned until June 2;
  • Must appear in court on June 2 at 10 a.m. at the court location at which they were to appear in March, 2020;
  • A bench warrant with discretion is issued to return on June 2; and
  • If the person fails to appear on June 2, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

Accused persons with matters scheduled in the Superior Court of Justice in the month of April 2020:
  • Are adjourned until June 3;
  • Must appear in court on June 3 at 10 a.m. at the court location at which they were to appear in April 2020;
  • A bench warrant with discretion is issued to return on June 3; and
  • If the person fails to appear on June 3, a warrant will be issued for their arrest.

Accused persons with matters scheduled in the Superior Court of Justice in the month of May 2020:
  • Are adjourned until June 4;
  • Must appear in court on June 4 at 10 a.m. at the court location at which they were to appear in May 2020;
  • A bench warrant with discretion is issued to return on June 4; and
  • If the person fails to appear on June 4, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. 

Urgent criminal matters during suspension 

The court will continue to hear urgent matters during this emergency period. The court plays a fundamental role in our constitutional democracy. Access to justice for the most urgent matters is available. The court’s notice identifies the urgent criminal matters that will be heard during the suspension of operations and the process for bringing such matters before the court.

Judicial pretrials 

Any counsel requiring a judicial pretrial on an urgent in-custody matter that has been affected by this adjournment should make arrangements with the Crown and make a request through the trial co-ordinator.

A list of trial co-ordinators’ contact information can be accessed here.

Judicial pretrials will be handled by phone.

Crown and defence counsel will be required to file matters electronically with the trial co-ordinator.

The court requests the co-operation of Crown and defence in assisting to provide the court with the necessary material during off-site operations

All judicial pretrials scheduled prior to March 17 are adjourned, unless the presiding judicial officer directs otherwise. These matters may be rescheduled in the upcoming weeks and will be conducted by phone.

Trials

All trials are adjourned, unless ordered otherwise.

Accused persons, witnesses and counsel involved in jury trials that are in progress will receive direction from the presiding judge on March 16.

Witnesses, lawyers and jurors

Witnesses, lawyers and jurors should not attend court for trials or any matters between March 17 and May 29 unless specifically ordered to do so by the presiding judge. Jurors and witnesses will be renotified of when to attend. Unless ordered otherwise, ongoing trials will be adjourned to a date after June 1.

Bail, bail reviews and detention reviews

Bail, bail reviews and detention reviews will be available remotely. The court will utilize to the fullest extent Criminal Code provisions permitting matters to be heard in the absence of the accused, or in the presence of the accused by way of audioconference or, if available, videoconference. Parties are urged to provide consent to the use of these alternative processes to the fullest extent possible, where such consent is required.

Defence and Crown counsel should work together to arrange a date and the filing of materials through the trial co-ordinator.

Self-represented persons

Assistance to self-represented persons may be available through a roster of volunteers from the criminal defence bar.

Sureties

Defence counsel will be responsible for arranging to confirm sureties’ identification and to assist them to sign bail by signing an electronic bail release and scanning it back to the court registrar to be forwarded to the institution.

Guilty pleas and sentencing

Guilty pleas and sentencing can be dealt with remotely for persons in custody in urgent circumstances.

Counsel should book a judicial pretrial to make arrangements.

Resumption of normal operations

In the weeks ahead, the court will finalize a plan to resume regular operations. Criminal matters are scheduled to return in the first week in June. However, if circumstances change and normal operations can resume earlier, the court will notify counsel, the Crown and institutions. 

Regular filings

For regular filings, that are not urgent as defined in this memo, the Ministry of the Attorney General advises that courthouses will remain open. Those filings may continue to occur. However, where procedural rules or court orders require the filing of documents during this emergency period and it becomes impossible to file at the courthouse or is believed to be unsafe, parties can expect the court to grant extensions of time once the court’s normal operations resume.