Coronavirus (COVID-19): What About the Courts?
Given the recent disruption to certain services as a result of COVID-19, we’ve put together this summary of the most up-to date information respecting court and administrative tribunal proceedings. We hope this is helpful to our clients (and fellow legal professionals) as we navigate this unprecedented situation.
Superior Court of Justice
The Ministry of the Attorney General released a Notice on March 15, 2020 advising that the Superior Court of Justice is suspending regular operations as of March 17, 2020 until further notice, and that all civil, family, and criminal matters that were to be heard on or after Tuesday March 17, 2020 are adjourned.
Lawyers and litigants with matters scheduled after March 17th are advised not to attend courthouses in person. Telephone and videoconference calls that were scheduled prior to March 17th are now adjourned, unless the presiding judicial officer directs otherwise.
Importantly, regular filings (i.e. filings that are not considered urgent as described below) will continue to take place as usual at various courthouses. However, all filing counters at the Ottawa Courthouse will be operating on a reduced service schedule – Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Further, in the event that filing at the courthouse becomes impossible or if the courthouse is deemed unsafe, parties can anticipate receiving an extension from the Court once regular operations resume. Additionally, if courthouses become inaccessible due to safety concerns, parties (and counsel) are advised to file their documents for civil matters electronically through the Civil Claims Online Portal. Generally, the following documents can be filed online:
- Statement of Claim – Form 14A, Form 14B or Form 14D
- Notice of Action – Form 14C
- Affidavit of Litigation Guardian of a Plaintiff under a Disability (Form 4D)
- Request for Bilingual Proceedings (Form 1)
- Consent to file documents in French
- Statement of Defence – Form 18A
- Notice of Intent to Defend – Form 18B
- Consent or Court Order (Form 59A) required in support of filing a document online
- Proof of Service for documents filed online (Form 16B, 16C, 17A, 17B, 17C or any documents listed in Rule 16.09).
All other documents must be filed in person at the courthouse (although this situation could change as the scenario surrounding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving). Moreover, clients and counsel should note that for claims that were started by in-person filing, all subsequent documents must also be filed in person.
During the suspension of proceedings, the Superior Court of Justice will only hear the following urgent and emergency matters:
- Matters related to Public Health and Safety and to COVID-19;
- Urgent family and child protection matters – including requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child; urgent issues relating to the wellbeing of the child (e.g. essential medical decisions, wrongful removal, etc.); dire issues concerning parties’ finances; and all urgent or statutorily mandated events in child protection cases;
- Urgent and time-sensitive motions in Civil and Commercial List matters where significant financial repercussions will ensue if there is no judicial hearing/ Outstanding warrants issued in Small Claims or Superior Court proceedings; and
- Any other matter the Superior Court considers necessary to hear on an urgent basis
Parties looking to bring an urgent matter before the Superior Court of Justice are advised to file urgent motion and application materials by email to the appropriate courthouse (for a list of courthouse email addresses, click here). Please consult the Notice from the Superior Court for additional guidelines on filing urgent documents, scheduling a hearing and the hearing process.
Small Claims Court
All sittings at the Small Claims Court are suspended as of March 16, 2020 until further notice.
Courthouses remain open for Small Claims Court filings, but, as mentioned above, the Ministry of the Attorney General advises against attending the courthouse if it becomes impossible to file at the courthouse or if the courthouse is considered unsafe. Small Claim Court claims can be filed electronically here. [However, as noted above, documents relating to claims started through in-person filing must also be filed in person]
Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario (SJTO), which oversees eight administrative tribunals, has implemented a policy of postponing and rescheduling in-person hearings. The affected tribunals include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The Landlord and Tenant Board
- The Child and Family Services Review Board
- The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board
- The Custody Review Board
- The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario
- The Ontario Special Education (English) Tribunal
- The Ontario Special Education (French) Tribunal and
- The Social Benefits Tribunal
Other tribunals such as the License Appeal Tribunal (LAT) will also be postponing in-person hearings.
Tribunals Ontario is advising people not to attend any Tribunal or Board location in person.
Moreover, all counter services at administrative tribunals are closed as of March 16, 2020. Tribunals Ontario will contact parties that have upcoming hearing dates to make necessary arrangements. Alternative hearing options such as written or telephone hearings may be considered where feasible. Parties (and counsel) are advised to contact their tribunal or board for further information.
For contact information of various tribunals, please click here
Note on the Condominium Authority Tribunal (CAT): The Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) is keeping its online services fully accessible. COVID-19’s impact on CAT proceedings is still unclear considering the various steps of dispute resolution before the CAT (i.e. submitting an application and pleadings, negotiation, mediation, hearing, etc.) can take place remotely (usually through an online platform). Section 3.1.(h) of the CAT’s Rules of Practice mentions that a hearing may be held “through the CAT-ODR system, telephone conference call, videoconference, or other methods”. In the event that “other methods” includes in-person hearings, such hearings could be adjourned in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
To ensure the safety of courthouse staff and personnel, the Ministry of the Attorney General has advised all court users and the general public not to attend any Superior Court of Justice Courthouses in person if they have been advised by a doctor or by the Ministry of Health to self-isolate due to possible exposure to COVID-19. All court users are advised to regularly consult the Ministry of Health’s website for the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 before attending any courthouses.
We expect to have more blogs for you as questions regarding COVID-19 and how it affects various aspects of condominium living keep coming in.
Stay tuned to Condo Law News to keep up to date on the latest developments in condominium law!