COVID-19 & Ontario Court Proceedings
On March 15, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice announced that the Superior Court was suspending all regular operations. Effective March 17, 2020, all criminal, family and civil matters were adjourned indefinitely due to COVID-19 social isolation measures.
We still don’t know when all the matters that were adjourned will be heard because we still don’t know when the courts will reopen. And once the courts do reopen we don’t know how all the adjourned matters will be slotted in amongst the matters that were already scheduled.
But does this mean the courts are completely closed? Are no matters being heard? And if matters are being heard, how do you get in front of a judge?
The court is continuing to hear urgent and emergency civil and family matters. Both the civil courts and the Commercial List in Toronto are hearing urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing. The court will also hear any other matter that it deems necessary and appropriate to hear on an urgent basis.
What does this mean? What types of matters fit into this category?
The court has dealt with a number of matters since March 17th and we are starting to see the types of matters that are urgent and time-sensitive, including:
- applications for stays and other relief under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act;
- applications to appoint receivers under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Courts of Justice Act;
- applications for relief from forfeiture;
- motions to prevent debtors from removing assets from Ontario; and
- an application by an individual challenging his disqualification as a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada;
In general, the court is applying a common-sense approach to deciding what matters are urgent and time-sensitive. While the notice to the profession which closed the courts limits the types of matters to cases with financial repercussions, the application involving the Conservative Party of Canada shows that any matter where rights are affected will be considered.
How do you get in front of a judge if you have an urgent matter?
For years lawyers have been trying to get the courts to accept materials electronically. We finally have this ability – again, sort of. Materials for urgent motions are now emailed to the court. The materials are far briefer than usual and are to include only what is essential to the hearing.
The trial coordinator will pass materials on to a triage judge who will decide if the matter will be heard and to set a timetable for the matter.
Matters will be heard in writing, by telephone or by video conference. Often the manner in which matters are decided will depend on the technology available in each individual courthouse.
Does this mean the courts are open during COVID-19?
Courts are not completely open. In general, matters are not being heard yet. There is talk of extending access to the courts by telephone or video conference but this has not happened yet.
However, if your matter is urgent don’t despair. We can help. We can get in front of a judge to get your matter heard.
Please contact Wojtek Jaskiewicz to discuss further.This article is provided for general information purposes and should not be considered a legal opinion. Clients are advised to obtain legal advice based on their specific situations.