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Ontario Superior Court of Justice expands matters heard remotely during COVID-19

Friday, April 03, 2020 @ 1:23 PM | By Amanda Jerome

On April 2, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz, of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, issued two notices to the profession regarding criminal, civil and family matters that will be heard by the court during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The notices, which will come into effect on April 6, expand the matters that can be heard during the pandemic beyond the “urgent” matters that the chief justice had limited the court to during the month of March.

“To promote access to justice, to minimize growing caseloads, and to maintain the effective administration of justice in Ontario, the Court is expanding its operations beyond the most urgent matters. All matters will be heard remotely by way of telephone or video conference,” the notices state.

The notices also note that the matters will differ by region because some regions have “significantly higher volumes than others.”

“At this time, some regions have court administration and trial coordination support better equipped to work virtually. The Court is making the best use of resources available to it,” the notices explain.

Beyond urgent matters, the following civil matters will be heard in most courts: pretrial conferences that have a settlement objective; Rule 7 motions or applications for approval of settlement, in writing; and consent motions in writing. As for family court, the matters in most courts are expanded to include requests for consent orders submitted by 14b motions under the Family Law Rules and case conferences with a potential limit on the number of issues that can be addressed at the hearing.

Criminal matters that will be heard in most courts include broader range of judicial pretrials; guilty pleas resulting from judicial pretrials; and extensions of orders such as stays of prohibition.

The notices also suspend the requirement to gown for an appearance in the Superior Court of Justice.

“Counsel and parties are expected to dress in appropriate business attire. Judges will similarly dress in business attire,” the notices explain.

The court has also committed to “the open court principle throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Any member of the media or the public who wishes to hear/observe a remote proceeding may email their request to the local courthouse staff in advance of the hearing. The person requesting access should provide their name, the hearing they wish to hear/observe, and their contact information. Every effort will be made to provide the requestor with information on how they may hear/observe the proceeding,” the notices state.

The notices also provide direction on filings by e-mail and note that “issuance and entering of a formal Order, which may require a physical attendance at a courthouse, is not recommended, unless an issued order is necessary for enforcement purposes (e.g., a family law restraining order).”

“Only orders relating to matters of urgency will be formally issued until the Court returns to regular operations,” the notices state.