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Manitoba court to resume civil conferences to keep bar ‘energized’

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 @ 2:17 PM | By Terry Davidson

Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench is using teleconferencing to resume pre-trial and case management conferences for civil actions in a bid to keep the province’s civil bar “vibrant” during the COVID-19 crisis.  

The move was effective April 7 and is applicable to new and ongoing matters.

“In the context of those conferences and with the consent of the assigned pre-trial or case management judge, the Court will also make available the possibility of a Judicially Assisted Dispute Resolution (JADR) which, if and when utilized, will also be conducted remotely by teleconference,” states a notice detailing the directive.  

But it goes on to warn that because of the “extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 situation,” parties involved in civil cases will be limited to a maximum of two pre-trial or case management conferences per proceeding between April 7 and Nov. 30, “inclusive of a possible JADR.”

The conferences can be used to “address typical pre-trial issues so as to read a matter for trial, and/or to discuss, prepare and adjudicate any motions, and/or achieve possible resolution by way of enhanced settlement discussions or through ... a remotely conducted JADR.”

The “requirements and limitations” can be found in the notice.

Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal pointed to the fact that courts in Manitoba and across the country have been cutting back operations and prioritizing urgent matters due to the ongoing pandemic.

“The civil bar was not getting a lot of service right now from the court in this prioritized hierarchy,” said Chief Justice Joyal. “The only thing they were effectively getting was those emergency motions that they could justify as being emergency-like, and those would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. So … the civil bar across the country is hurting. To the extent that the economy is increasingly starting to suffer and show the signs of slowdown, so is the private bar in the civil litigation proceedings that obviously accompany their work.”

He said this new procedure will allow the civil bar to stay “energized” during the pandemic – and after.

“We thought there was an institutional responsibility ... to obviously do what we could to enhance service in every area we could, but also to ensure, to the extent that we could, we could infuse some energy into that part of the civil bar and to ensure they had some type of ongoing energy and mechanism by which they could keep these files moving. And even if it’s not obvious at this stage that it is going to necessarily create huge access to justice advantages, it is, in the long term, keeping that part of the bar vibrant and energized so that when this thing breaks, they can hopefully exit it unscathed.”

Chief Justice Joyal noted the maximum of two conferences per proceeding and the need for preparedness by those involved.  

“Counsel now know that they have to make these things count and they have to come prepared and have to come focused and they are going to have a group of seven or eight dedicated … judges who can deal with these matters in a way that will move them along. Myself, the associate chief justice and six or seven other judges will be part of that team and, to the extent that we can, deal with these matters that are incoming. It provides a bit of a kick-start, if you will, to that area of practice.”