Focus On

B.C. Supreme Court extends adjournments until May 29

Friday, April 17, 2020 @ 1:58 PM | By Ian Burns


The B.C. Supreme Court has updated its procedures for criminal, civil and family matters during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All criminal, civil and family matters scheduled for hearing between March 19 and May 29 are adjourned, unless deemed essential or the court otherwise directs; the court had previously adjourned matters until May 1. This automatic adjournment extends to all trials, conferences and chambers applications or other hearings currently scheduled for hearing on or before May 29.

All jury selections are cancelled up to and including July 3 everywhere in the province; previously jury selections had been cancelled until May 31. Parties are not required to submit jury fees during the time that regular court operations are suspended. When regular court operations resume, the court may consider abridging the time for submission of fees if requests are made by parties. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson announced the changes April 16.

To preserve jurisdiction in criminal matters, a bench warrant will be issued for all accused persons who have scheduled appearances during that time period. The bench warrant will be held and not executed until the date of the next scheduled appearance. If the accused person appears personally or through counsel on that date, the bench warrant will be vacated.

For a matter scheduled for the period between March 19 and April 9, the next appearance will be set on the fix-date list of the court location where the matter was scheduled to be heard, on the dates set out in Appendix A of this notice.

For May dates, appearances will be by telephone, with self-represented accused persons in custody appearing by video. For a matter scheduled for the period between April 14 and May 1, the next appearance will be set on the fix-date list of the court location where the matter was scheduled to be heard, on the dates set out in Appendix B of the notice. For May dates, appearances will be by telephone, with self-represented accused persons in custody appearing by video.

For a matter (other than pre-trial conferences and fix-date appearances) scheduled for the period between May 4 and May 29, the next appearance will be set on the fix-date list of the court location where the matter was scheduled to be heard, on the dates set out in Appendix C of the notice. Counsel must contact the local manager of Supreme Court scheduling the week prior to the fix-date appearance to canvass new dates. Scheduling information by location can be found in Appendix C.

If the public health situation improves before May 29 to a point where the court can begin to resume regular operations, Supreme Court scheduling will contact counsel (and the accused if not represented by counsel) to arrange for an earlier appearance, if possible. 

Pre-trial conferences already scheduled for dates before May 29, for trials scheduled to begin after May 29, will proceed as scheduled, unless the case management judge or the trial judge directs otherwise. Counsel and self-represented accused persons should arrange to appear by telephone for these pre-trial conferences.

If the accused person is self-represented and in custody, Crown counsel should arrange for them to appear at the pre-trial conference by video. Regular fix-date appearances will resume as of May 4, on the usual day and time for each court location, unless it is not possible for them to proceed due to logistical issues created by the public health measures.

The hearings will take place at the nearest central location listed in Part VI of the notice. For May fix-dates, appearances will be by telephone, with self-represented accused persons in custody appearing by video. Details will be provided in advance, regarding how the appearances will be run.

In order to maintain the rule of law and its core function, the court will continue to hear essential and urgent matters during the suspension period. The procedure for requesting hearings of essential or urgent matters is described in Part IV of the notice. Hearings will be by telephone where possible and appropriate, or by video appearance where appropriate and available. Essential or urgent criminal matters include the following:

  • Judicial interim release (bail) and bail review hearings
  • Scheduling and detention review hearings under s. 525 of the Criminal Code
  • Habeas corpus applications, or other applications by in-custody accused persons and offenders that require prompt attention;
  • Applications under Part VI of the Criminal Code, applications for search warrants or arrest warrants, or other related applications that should not be delayed.

For matters not listed above, counsel or accused persons not represented by counsel, who believe that their matter is essential or urgent may also submit a request to the court that the matter be heard.

Filing and service deadlines under the Supreme Court civil and family rules are suspended until May 29, following which they will begin to run again. The suspension of regular operations and adjournment of trials scheduled on or before May 29 necessarily suspends the usual time frames under the rules for holding trial management conferences, for filing trial briefs, and for filing trial certificates, as these time frames all count back from the scheduled trial date.

Trials scheduled for hearing following May 29 will also be affected, and further directions concerning this will come from the court as matters evolve.

As with criminal matters, the court will only hear only essential and urgent family and civil matters. Essential or urgent family matters include:

  • Orders relating to the safety of a child or parent due to a risk of violence or immediate harm (e.g., a protection order, conduct orders, or exclusive possession of the home)
  • Orders relating to the risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction (e.g., relocation, non-removal, wrongful removal, or retention of a child)
  • Orders relating to the well-being of a child (e.g., essential medical decisions, urgent issues relating to parenting time, contact, or communication with a child that cannot reasonably be delayed).

Essential or urgent civil matters include:

  • Matters related to public health and safety and COVID-19, including orders under the Quarantine Act and Public Health Act.
  • Matters where there is a prima facie urgency, including refusal of treatment and end of life matters, such as applications under the Health Care (Consent) and Care Facility (Admission) Act; detention of individuals, including under the Mental Health Act and the Adult Guardianship Act; emergency adult guardianship and committeeship orders, including under the Adult Guardianship Act and Patients Property Act
  • Housing evictions, including interim stays of orders of possession under the Residential Tenancy Act
  • Civil restraining orders
  • Preservation orders
  • Urgent injunction applications
  • Urgent orders in the nature of habeas corpus, certiorari, mandamus and prohibition.

The court noted all dates are subject to change.