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Federal Court extends suspension of normal hearings, expands availability of virtual proceedings

Thursday, April 30, 2020 @ 3:19 PM | By Cristin Schmitz

As a result of COVID-19, the Federal Court is extending to June 29 the suspension of its hearings (subject to exceptions) while expanding the range of matters that it is prepared to address in the meantime by telephone, videoconference, or in writing.

Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton’s detailed, single-spaced five-page April 29 practice direction and order, disseminated April 30, updates his April 4 practice direction and order, which remains in force as thereby amended.

Subject to certain specified exceptions, the previously announced “suspension period” — that began March 16, 2020, and was to end May 15 — is extended to May 29, 2020, while hearings will not be held until June 29, 2020.

During the suspension period, and subject to a caveat and exceptions, the running of all timelines established pursuant to specified instruments is suspended.

The chief justice said previously scheduled and new matters that the court considers to be “urgent” or “exceptional” in nature are to be heard by telephone or videoconference, unless the court determines that an in-person hearing is required.

He also wrote, subject to exceptions, “the following measures will be implemented to allow parties and their legal counsel to ramp up before normal operations resume: Timelines for the filing of documents and the taking of other procedural steps will be extended by 14 days following the end of the suspension period, to June 12, 2020.”

By way of example, if a party had three days prior to March 16 to take a step, the party will have those same three days plus an additional 14 days after May 29, 2020, to take that step — the new deadline to file would be June 15, 2020. The timelines for taking subsequent steps would be similarly extended.

The chief justice said that, subject to the exceptions, all hearings that had previously been scheduled to take place between May 16, 2020 and June 28, 2020 are adjourned sine die and all general sittings in that period are cancelled.

The court’s case management judges will continue to manage cases, and issue orders and directions, when they consider it appropriate to do so.

On request of a party, the court “will endeavour to accommodate any requests for a hearing by telephone or video conference during the suspension period,” the chief justice said. These requests will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and subject to the requirements in the order.

The Federal Court has also identified “a substantial number of matters” that are ready to proceed, or are close to being ready to proceed, subject to ensuring that the documentation required for the hearing is available to the parties and the court, either on paper or electronically. The court “will begin reaching out to parties to discuss scheduling those matters, as well as any additional matters that evolve into this category, by video conference or teleconference,” the chief justice said.

“For the time being, video conference hearings will be conducted over Zoom.”

The chief justice said the court’s approach to such hearings, and how it will work with the parties to share electronic versions of documents in advance of the hearings, will be explained in a separate document to be posted on the Federal Court’s website

During the suspension period, the court will continue to adjudicate: motions in writing made pursuant to Rule 369; applications for leave to apply for judicial review; and any other matters that the court is requested to determine in writing, subject to the requirements set out in the order.

“The court encourages parties to consent to proceed in writing with respect to any matter that would have normally be determined in person, by teleconference or videoconference, by sending a request to the Registry using the court’s e-filing portal,” the chief justice said.

He said the rescheduling of matters will take place in the manner described in the April 4 practice direction and order, subject to: (i) the amended dates set out in his April 29 order, and (ii) the court determining the manner in which the hearing will be held (i.e., in person, by videoconference or by teleconference), “having regard to all of the circumstances, including the nature of ongoing restrictions in place in the area in question and any representations made by the parties in this regard. Parties will be given a minimum of two weeks’ notice, unless the parties consent to an earlier hearing, or the court determines that the matter needs to be heard on an urgent basis.”