There is still no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic and things may get worse before they get better. But despite the widespread problems that this virus has caused, the legal profession and our court system continue to pull their weight in working to make things more manageable during these uncertain times, both for the profession and for litigants.
Not only are the courts and government passing legislation and amending rules to allow the system to keep functioning, but lawyer governing bodies and member services are also taking compassionate steps to help accommodate our professional needs.
Some notable developments over the past week include:
- the Law Society of Ontario has recognized that many lawyers are struggling to generate income as of late. To address this issue, the Law Society is providing some licensees with a break on their fees. Specifically, licensees who have not yet paid their fees this year will be extended a grace period until June 1, 2020 without incurring any late penalties;
- the Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company (LAWPRO) has announced that, while lawyers are still expected to carry out their filings and payments, it will not be sending out notices or following up on the collection of any delinquent accounts or missed filings at this time. LAWPRO has also announced that lawyers may also have the option of stopping their automatic payments for the time being; and
- the Ontario Bar Association is now offering a free virtual boardroom service to its members for firm meetings, mediations, arbitrations, closings and client meetings. Members can email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a free booking.
Ontario Courts have also been hard at work to implement important measures and help accommodate the profession and litigants:
- on March 19, 2020 the Ontario Attorney General issued an order halting the eviction of residents from their homes, pursuant to eviction orders issued by the Landlord and Tenant Board or writs of possession unless the court orders otherwise. Those seeking to enforce an eviction must seek leave by way of an urgent motion;
- following his March 15, 2020 Notice to the Profession Regarding Civil and Family Proceedings, Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz, the Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued an announcement on March 27, 2020 regarding court operations. Effective April 6, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will expand the scope of matters which may be heard remotely. Further details on this initiative are expected to be released within the coming days; and
- on March 28, 2020, the Ministry of the Attorney General issued a direction to suspend administrative dismissal notices and dismissal orders. The direction applies to family matters in the Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court, as well as civil matters in Superior Court and Small Claims Court across all regions in Ontario.
Also, over the past two weeks, provincial courts and Ontario Superior Court of Justice have announced that applicable rules have been amended to allow for electronic filings and service by email, all significantly expanded from pre-COVID-19 era rules and practices Not to be outdone, the Supreme Court of Canada has recently announced that it is taking similar measures to protect the spread of COVID-19.
Although the Supreme Court will remain open solely for case-related matters, it has announced that documents are to be filed by email until further notice. There will be a directive at a later date regarding the filing of original hard copies once the Supreme Court Building is fully re-opened.
On top of this, the Supreme Court has also announced that all filing and other deadlines that are imposed by the Rules of the Supreme Court of Canada are suspended until further notice. Although deadlines that are imposed by other statutes will remain intact, parties are encouraged to contact the Supreme Court Registry by email at email@example.com if they are concerned about their ability to meet any such deadlines.
We still have a long way to go before the legal system returns to normal. But in the meantime, the powers that be seem prepared to embrace technology and allow some leniency to keep the system moving, while the residents of Ontario continue to lock-down to “flatten the curve”.