Representatives of the Courts of Ontario, the Ministry of the Attorney General and various stakeholder representatives are meeting regularly in order to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and the courts’ response to it.
At present, the Ministry and the courts are working towards a further expansion of the courts. To date, since the declaration of the emergency, the Superior Court of Justice has heard about 1,000 matters, being motions, conferences and pre-trials. However, it is hoped that the types of matters to be heard and the number of matters can be expanded in the near future.
Committees are currently considering the expansion of court services. Priorities being discussed include:
- Identifying a Document Sharing Platform to be used by judges, counsel and parties;
- Identifying a Video Conferencing Platform to be used by judges, counsel and parties; and
- Determining a protocol to be used by court staff for supporting virtual hearings.
It is expected that the selection of a Document Sharing Platform will be made by next week, with the other items to be in place shortly thereafter. While there is no set time frame, once the systems are put in place, there will be an announcement with respect to the expansion of court services.
It would appear that once these systems are put in place, there will be no turning back. Virtual hearings, at least to a certain extent, will be the new norm. Previous attempts to modernize the court by allowing virtual attendances, through a service called CourtCall, did not gain much traction. However, I suspect that there is now a greater appetite for and comfort with virtual hearings. Further, it is likely that the hearings will be supported by better document management and document filing facilities; something that was lacking under past experiments.
And stay safe.
Our firm attended the OBA Professional Development Dinner With Your Honourable Estates List Judges on April 5, 2017. The topic of the new practice advisory on video conferencing, and its intended use, was one of the topics that were discussed that evening.
This particular practice advisory is applicable only to 9:30 scheduling appointments on the Toronto Estates List and it was made in accordance with Rule 1.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The new practice advisory is clear that, unless otherwise directed by the court, video conferencing is available in consent matters, unopposed matters, and scheduling matters. Parties or counsel who chose to appear by video conference must make their own arrangements and they may use CourtCall without prior Court approval. An appearance by CourtCall should be communicated to the Court in either the request or confirmation form filed for the appearance. As a matter of convenience, the Order, once issue and entered, will be sent to you by CourtCall.
For those who are interested, further details with respect to what CourtCall is and how it works are available on their website, https://courtcall.com.
Any other arrangements with alternative technologies for this purpose will require prior Court approval.
According to the Honourable Estates List Judges who were present during the Dinner, regardless of whether a matter is on consent or unopposed, video conference may still be less than ideal in situations where substantive relief is sought, such as an unopposed guardianship application.
For future OBA Trusts and Estates Law events like the Dinner, please check out the section group here.
Thanks for reading,