As we embark on our fourth consecutive week of practicing litigation under lockdown, the Canadian appellate courts are adapting quickly to the new remote environment.
Beginning this week, the Ontario Divisional Court will begin conducting multi-day hearings in front of three-judge panels over Zoom. The hearings will be open to 500 members of the public and a recent decision sets out how the hearings will be conducted.
Taking things one step further, on April 20, 2020 the British Columbia Court of Appeal announced that it would be conducting all of its operations with electronic filings and remote hearings. In a recent Notice to the Public, it was announced that filings for all matters would be accepted and “parties are encouraged to advance their appeals if they are able to do so”. Also, beginning May 4, 2020:
- electronic filing for all matters will be mandatory;
- all appeals (including non-urgent matters) will be heard using Zoom; and
- all urgent and non-urgent chambers applications and Registrar’s appointments will be heard by teleconference or in writing.
It is also notable that, in British Columbia, the required time periods to commence civil or family proceedings stopped running on 26 March 2020. Despite this, the Notice states that parties are free to commence appeals if they want, but if they are unable to do so, they “can wait without concern that the limitation period to start civil or family proceedings will expire”. However, appeals that were required to be filed before March 26, 2020 are still subject to the usual timelines.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal is therefore not only going fully remote during the shutdown, it is keeping its existing limitation period suspensions in place for parties that cannot have their matters heard without in-person attendances. As such, the Court is taking steps to accommodate litigants on two fronts.
This is encouraging news for the continuation of the practice of law while the courts remain locked. Let’s hope the other provinces follow suit.