As many are aware, COVID-19 has not had a positive impact on the justice system. In accordance with the Notice to the Profession dated March 15, 2020, regular operations of the Superior Court of Justice were suspended, given the pandemic and only certain urgent and emergency matters were to be heard by the Superior Court of Justice.
Although since then a further update was provided wherein it was made clear that additional matters will be scheduled for a remote hearing by telephone or video conference or heard in writing, to the extent that your particular matter does not fall within the narrow exceptions currently in effect, the Court will consider whether it is urgent before scheduling a hearing.
Justice Myers commented on the question of whether a matter is urgent in a recent Endorsement and expressed his concern about the ability of the Court to offer services during this unprecedented time.
In the particular case at hand, the Applicant, sent application materials to the Court raising concerns about the upcoming closing of a pending real estate transaction and the possibility of a residential eviction. Justice Myers noted that this was done, knowing of the Chief Justice’s Order dated March 19, 2020, suspending residential evictions in Ontario.
Nevertheless, Justice Myers, via a handwritten Endorsement dated April 2, 2020, scheduled this proposed matter for a case conference, by finding that the urgency standard in the Notice to the Profession dated March 15, 2020 was met. Following the delivery of the Endorsement to counsel for the parties, the Court received a letter from the Respondent, containing submissions as to why the matter was not urgent and should not be scheduled for a hearing.
Justice Myers noted that the Court is now routinely receiving submissions on the issue of “urgency” both before and after the Court scheduled a matter for a hearing. Justice Myers further re-iterated the following:
- The Notice to the Profession is a not a statute passed by the Legislature of Ontario;
- Litigants and lawyers alike are asked “to recognize the exceptional times and to try and cooperate to avoid the need for Court proceedings where possible”;
- Guidelines are provided for those who need to access the Court while they are not in full operation; and
- Importantly, none of this affects the Court’s jurisdiction or the applicable rules of law such that scheduling is an administrative function of the Court.
In light of the above, Justice Myers made it clear that the scheduling of an “urgent” matter is not a legal determination and therefore there is no need or call for detailed submissions. His Honour further re-iterated that not only is it not required, but that it is not helpful and that it must stop.
In analyzing Justice Myers’ Endorsement, and given the circumstances surrounding COVID-19, it is important that counsel cooperate with one another and the Court in effectively moving matters forward with minimized impact on the parties and the justice system. We are all, after all, in this together.
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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuant to the Notice to the Profession, the courts are presently restricted to hearing mainly urgent matters. For civil and commercial matters, this includes “urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications in civil and commercial list matters, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing.” There is also a broad ability for the court to hear any other matter that it deems necessary and appropriate to be heard on an urgent basis, but these matters will be strictly limited.
In a recent decision, Weidenfeld v Parikh-Shah, 2020 ONSC 2401, the court considered two urgent motions brought by the plaintiff and the defendants, respectively. The defendants sought to have monies that had been paid into court several years ago, paid out from court. The plaintiff sought, among other things, an order prohibiting the payment out of the monies. The decision did not provide details of the background of the litigation between the parties.
The court stated that the parties’ first step is to establish that their respective motions are, in fact, urgent. The court provided some guidance as to what is needed in this regard:
“The obligation is on the moving party to provide cogent, particular and specific evidence to show the court that the relief requested is urgent. Speculative, supposition or theoretical evidence is not good enough. The present environment and limited use of judicial resources mandate that the urgency must be real and immediate.”
Unfortunately for the parties in this case, the court found that their affidavit evidence did not provide cogent evidence to satisfy the court that the relief sought was urgent. The reason for which the defendants had brought the motion seeking to have money paid out of court was not set out in the decision.
The court did consider the category of urgent matters where “immediate and significant financial repercussions may result”, and specifically mentioned (a) matters that may put a person in financial jeopardy; (b) the funding of a business, business venture or construction project, failing which the financial viability of the project is in jeopardy; and (c) the necessity of a person to have resources to pay expenses or an order for the health and safety of a person; as issues that would meet the test of “immediate and significant financial repercussions”.
In the current circumstances, we are continually adjusting to new ways of doing things. This includes bringing court proceedings. Based on the Weidenfeld v Parikh-Shah decision, it is clear that parties will need to provide clear and sufficient evidence to satisfy the court as to the urgency of the matter in order for the court to hear the proceeding while court operations are restricted.
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