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Ontario Superior Court of Justice unveils first phase of courtroom reopening

Monday, June 29, 2020 @ 4:41 PM | By John Schofield

Starting July 6, Ontario will resume in-person proceedings at 56 Superior Court of Justice (SCJ) courtrooms in the first phase of its province-wide reopening.

The specific court locations are detailed in a June 25 Notice to the Profession, Litigants, Accused, Media and Members of the Public. They will include courtrooms in Barrie, Oshawa, Brampton, Milton, Guelph, Hamilton, Brantford, St. Catharines, Kitchener, Kingston, Ottawa, North Bay, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, London, Sarnia and Toronto.

In managing the safe return to in-person hearings, Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz detailed in the notice, the Ministry of the Attorney General and its Recovery Secretariat are being guided by Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, a Public Health Ontario physician specializing in communicable diseases and emergency preparedness and response, and the Chief Prevention Office for Ontario from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development.

“The ministry,” the notice explained, “has provided a list of items that will be assessed at each court site and courtroom before a courtroom will re-open. This includes: physical distancing; facility and room capacity; plexiglass barriers; hand sanitization dispensers; personal protective equipment (PPE); enhanced cleaning; courtroom (re)configuration; document transmission; movement of in-person accused; public/media access to courtrooms; jury events; courtroom disinfection; use of public elevators and escalators; use of public washrooms; entrance protocol and COVID screening at courthouses; public and media access; and food service areas.”

Beginning July 6, the Ministry is also expecting to post on its website comprehensive health and safety information, including a guidebook for all court users.

Additional courtrooms will open by Sept. 15 as part of phase 2, with more opening by Nov. 1 in phase 3.

Starting July 6, “trials and other hearings that are urgent or which were scheduled to be heard during the suspension of the court’s regular operations will be given priority,” said the notice. “Jury matters will continue to be deferred until at least September 2020.

“As a result of space limitations created by the need for physical distancing,” it added, “the court is exploring with the ministry the availability of off-site jury selection and will provide a further direction as soon as that information is available.”

For civil and family matters, according to the notice, direction will be provided regionally for the hearing of these proceedings.

The Superior Court of Justice is instructing litigants and lawyers to arrive at court at least 30 minutes in advance because of extra, pandemic-related screening requirements. “Litigants,” it added, “should only bring family members or other supports to court with them where absolutely necessary.”

In addition to any in-person appearances, the court will continue to hear matters virtually.

For in-person proceedings, the Superior Court’s gowning requirement remains suspended until further notice. “Counsel may continue to wear business attire,” the notice advised. “This is because there is limited space in courthouse robing rooms, which may not permit sufficient physical distancing. Judges and masters will be robed.”

In some regions, some matters will be heard in person or remotely in July and August. Counsel will be made aware of these matters by the court, according to the notice.

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