Return to In-Court Hearings in Ontario – New Safety Measures
July 13, 2020
By Adam Bobker and Anastassia Trifonova
As Canada continues the fight against COVID-19, reopening efforts are underway across the country. Courts are also beginning to ease COVID-19 imposed restrictions and are starting to resume in-person proceedings. As of July 6, 2020, many of the Ontario Courthouses have begun in-court hearings.1 That said, the reopening of the courtrooms in Ontario is under strict health and safety protocols in order to protect staff, lawyers and parties when they attend at a courthouse.
The Ministry of Attorney General has set out a detailed plan to ensure that the public and staff in the courthouses remain safe as in-person hearings are resumed.2 In addition to following physical distancing and enhanced sanitation requirements, the attendants are required to fill out COVID-19 Courthouse Screening questionnaire each day they attend at the courthouse. The results of the questionnaire must be shown to courthouse screening staff every time the attendant is to enter/re-enter the court.
However, some have challenged the measures put in place for the reopening of the Ontario courts, noting that the safety initiatives do not go far enough and expose the staff, lawyers, litigants and their families to unnecessary health risk. A Notice has been filed in the Ontario Superior Court by a group of 5,000 Crown attorneys, legal aid lawyers and courthouse staff demanding, among other things, that a mandatory mask policy is put in place and a ban on attendants who appear to be ill or are ill.3 While it remains to be seen whether further measures will be put in place to mitigate COVID-19 related health risks, the Ontario Courts continue to move ahead with trying to resume normal operations.
In its practice notice, the Federal Court has noted that the Court will continue to schedule all general sittings and applications for judicial review by video conference (or exceptionally by teleconference). Requests to have such matters heard in person will be considered after reviewing recommendations by public health authorities, the availability of court staff and court officers, and any delays that may occur in reconfiguring the Court’s facilities to ensure that they are safe for all participants. Moreover, in-person hearings may be scheduled to take place at a later date than the initially scheduled video conferencing hearing.4
As in-person Court hearings start to be held once again, it will be interesting to see how prevalent video hearings remain given the experiences of the Court and Counsel during the shut down thus far.
1 “Notice to the Profession, Litigants, Accused, Media and Members of the Public (June 25, 2020)”, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, URL: <https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/notice-june-25-2020/ >
2 “COVID-19: Recommended Precautionary Measures: Resuming Court Operations”, Ministry of the Attorney General Recovery Secretariat, July 2, 2020, URL: < https://files.ontario.ca/mag-covid-19-recommended-precautionary-measures-en-2020-07-03.pdf >
3 “Citing lack of COVID-19 safety measures, courthouse workers, lawyers push back against Ontario reopening of courts”, Sean Fine, June 29, 2020, The Globe and Mail, URL: <https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-courthouse-workers-lawyers-push-back-against-ontario-reopening-of/>
4 “Consolidated Covid-19 Practice Direction (June 25, 2020)”, Federal Court, June 25, 2020, URL: < https://www.fct-cf.gc.ca/Content/assets/pdf/base/Consolidated%20Covid-19%20%20Practice%20Direction%20and%20Order%20(June%2025th%20-%20Final).pdf >
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