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Ontario reopens more family law courtrooms, expands other virtual services

Thursday, September 03, 2020 @ 12:56 PM | By John Schofield

The Ontario Court of Justice is continuing its phased reopening for in-person family law proceedings and is expanding remote services for virtual criminal case management and Provincial Offences Act matters.

As of Sept. 14, in-person family law cases will resume in 12 court locations: Cochrane, Gore Bay, Haileybury, Parry Sound, Timmins, Dryden, Fort Frances, Kenora, Goderich, Stratford, Walkerton and Woodstock.

Court operations will continue to expand with additional courthouses and courtrooms added as the Ministry of the Attorney General continues to implement its reopening plan, with a targeted completion date of Nov. 1.

Persons attending court must arrive early because of the extra screening requirements, according to a Sept. 2 notice to the profession on the scheduling of family matters. Due to restrictions on the number of people allowed in courthouses, members of the legal profession and the public are advised not to attend courthouses in person unless they have been scheduled to appear or if they are unable to electronically file family court documents relating to a scheduled family law matter. Likewise, family members or supporters should not attend court with people who have scheduled appearances in court.

See the notice to the profession for complete details.

In addition, as of Sept. 8, virtual criminal case management (VCCM) courts will expand to a number of locations, including Barrie, Peterborough, Brantford, Niagara, Cornwall, London, Sarnia, North Bay, Sudbury, Toronto North (1000 Finch Ave.) and Toronto West (2201 Finch). For a complete list of locations, see the Sept. 2 notice to the profession on additional VCCM court locations.
Details about virtual criminal case management court appearances are available in the notice Scheduling and Conducting of Virtual Criminal Case Management Appearances.

Further information about criminal proceedings in the Ontario Court of Justice, including the definition of case management appearances, is available in the notice COVID-19: Notice to Counsel and the Public re: Criminal Matters in the Ontario Court of Justice.

Meanwhile, no in-person Provincial Offences Act (POA) proceedings will be conducted until at least Oct. 19. Beginning Sept. 28, Provincial Offences Act matters may proceed remotely as described a Sept. 2 notice to the profession on POA matters, s. 4.1.1. Judicial pretrials as described in s. 4.3 and early resolution guilty pleas described in s. 4.4 may continue to be held remotely.

“The court is working closely with its justice partners, including the Ministry of the Attorney General and representatives of provincial offences courts, to determine how technology can be used to increase participants’ ability to access courthouse services using remote means, such as by the electronic filing of court material, remote scheduling processes, and remote hearings,” the notice reads. “The court is also working with justice partners to plan for the eventual resumption of in-person attendances in a way that protects the health and safety of all participants.”

In all cases, lawyers, their clients and other members of the public are advised to not enter a courthouse if they have been advised by public health officials or a doctor to self-isolate.