With daily cases of COVID-19 steadily on the rise throughout Ontario, the provincial government is starting to enact more restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. Naturally, the justice system is no exception to this and, as of last week, courthouses have introduced a number of restrictive measures as well.
Most notably, on November 21, 2020, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued a Notice to the Profession regarding court procedures, which will be effective November 23, 2020. The highlights of the Notice are as follows:
- Ontario courts will not commence jury selection in any court except those in a "Green Zone" as defined by the Ontario government. The jury selection suspension will be effective until at least January 4, 2021, and an update will be issued on December 29, 2020. Jury trials that are already in progress can proceed subject to the discretion of the trial judge;
- in the Toronto and Peel regions, which are currently under lockdown, new in-person court proceedings are limited to 10 people per courtroom;
- proceedings already in progress with more than 10 people in a courtroom may continue at the trial judge's discretion; and
- parties in all regions are strongly encouraged to participate in virtual courtroom proceedings wherever possible.
Justice Morawetz also stressed the importance of flexibility and urged everyone to do their part to support public health efforts to stabilize the pandemic situation. Accordingly, as with the first wave of lockdowns earlier in the year, the courts are again making changes in response to the rapidly changing pandemic situation. Virtual proceedings will continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future, and strict limits will be placed on any in-person proceedings.
On that note, on November 16, 2020, the Ontario Court of Appeal issued a Notice suspending all in-person appeals indefinitely until further notice. All appeals to the Court of Appeal will be conducted remotely. It may also be necessary to schedule some appeal hearings outside the 4-6 month timeline prescribed by the Court of Appeal's 2017 Practice Direction.
It is not yet clear when in-person hearings will resume and become the norm again. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you apprised on the latest developments.
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