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Manitoba court to begin hearing in-person trials

Tuesday, May 05, 2020 @ 3:32 PM | By Terry Davidson

Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench will once again start hearing judge-alone trials where parties appear in person.

With the exception those involving juries, the court will hear criminal, civil, family and child protection trials currently scheduled between May 26 and the end of June, according to a May 4 notice to the profession from Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal.

However, as has been the case since mid-March, the hearings will be restricted to only those people necessary to the proceedings in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.  

In the notice, Chief Justice Joyal said the court, “using its segmented and staged approach, has endeavoured to return, as quickly as possible, to most of the services it provides.”

“The Court is pleased that in all of those areas of the Court's judicial service, where applicable, pre-trials, case management meetings, case conferences, motions, judicially assisted dispute resolutions … and intake and triage lists are up and running,” he said. “By May 26, 2020, assuming the subject trials are able to proceed as planned … the Court of Queen's Bench will be operating at close to 100 [per cent] capacity in its various areas of criminal, civil, family and child protection judicial service. Although much of its non-trial judicial service is and will continue to be conducted remotely, the available service nonetheless provides litigants and counsel access to the Court and any requisite adjudications.”

The notice goes on to stress that the trials will take place “with the requisite precautions … as overseen by the Court and with the collaboration and support of counsel and all participants.”

These precautions include “appropriate social distancing.”

It also goes on to state that the current scheduling and hearing of pretrials, case management meetings, case conferences, motions and judicially assisted dispute resolutions will continue to be heard by video- or teleconference.

It also points to a March 13 notice, in which it was ordered that all three levels of Manitoba’s courts would restrict attendance at proceedings to only those necessary, such as lawyers, litigants, the accused, witnesses and victims service workers.

“That Notice is still in effect and should accordingly govern how counsel and litigants plan for their own physical attendance and the attendance and readiness of their witnesses at the Law Courts throughout the trial. While the clear intent of the Notice cannot be ignored and it will govern, specific and nuanced applications of the Notice will in some circumstances be left to the trial judge.”

If a witness or someone else permitted to attend the proceedings is denied entry into the Law Courts building, the applicable court will be advised and the judge will take the matter up with the parties involved.

And as of May 11, “the approach for having an emergency or urgent matter heard will return to the former and longstanding process by which a request must be made to the motions coordinator … to have the defined matter added to the uncontested list at which leave will be sought for any eventual expedited hearing.”  

This move of re-staring in-person trials comes days after Manitoba’s government launched a multi-phase plan to reopen the province’s economy.