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.

Stay tuned!

And stay safe.

Paul Trudelle