The Court System During the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is not ‘business as usual’ with the courts.  Courthouses throughout Ontario are closed.  They are scheduled to open at the beginning of June; but the reopening is always subject to change, dependent on how our COVID-19 situation pans out.    
 
Although the Courts are physically closed, judges are still hearing urgent family matters via either tele-conference or video conference.  The keyword is ‘urgent’. 
 

The Courts have defined urgency in the family law context: 

  • Requests for urgent relief relating to the safety of a child or parent (e.g., a restraining order, other restrictions on contact between the parties or a party and a child, or exclusive possession of the home[1]
     
  • Urgent issues that must be determined relating to the well-being of a child including essential medical decisions or issues relating to the wrongful removal or retention of a child; 
  • Dire issues regarding the parties’ financial circumstances including for example the need for a non-depletion order; 
  • In a child protection case, all urgent or statutorily mandated events including the initial hearing after a child has been brought to a place of safety, and any other urgent motions or hearings. 

  
Before a judge will hear your matter, a judge appointed to ‘triage’ cases will determine whether your case meets the high threshold for urgency.  If it does, the case will be assigned to a different judge for a hearing (once again via teleconference or video conference).  
The materials presented to the judge are also changing.  In a nutshell, your materials, provided via email attachment, need to be streamlined.  
We are experiencing history in the making.  Individuals and institutions are having to adapt quickly and drastically to these unprecedented, historic times.  The court system is no exception.   
 
 
[1] Please see my blog entitled ‘Parenting Disputes During the COVID-19 Era’. 
 

It is safe to say that the longer government-imposed strict restrictions remain in place, the greater the court system will open itself up to hearing more and more matters; the bar for finding urgency will lower. 
There is possibly a silver lining.   The legal profession, including the courts, was mired in the 20th century, which I would opine is in large part responsible for the formidable backlog.   The crisis with which we are contending has forced the ‘system’ to move into the 21st century.  One can only hope that the courts and the legal profession will continue to use the technology at our disposal, post-COVID-19 era, to better promote the administration of justice in a timelier fashion.    

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