Earlier this week, courts commenced their gradual reopening in the face of COVID-19 still persisting and public health and safety measures still in place. Since their closure in mid-March, although courts have been addressing urgent matters and some consent or other matters (depending on the region and/or the court), the vast majority of court hearings or other events have been adjourned, including motions, pre-trial conferences, trials, assignment courts, to-be-spoken-to courts, etc.
The courts, therefore, are effectively contending with a three-and-a-half-month backlog of matters, while still (hopefully) adhering to schedules presently in place. In the face of that backlog, it would seem that some creative (and perhaps extreme) solutions are and will be necessary moving forward, one of which is mass remote court events.
The Brampton Court, for example, this week scheduled remote Assignment Courts to take place via videoconference, solely to address the adjournment of trials (on one day) and Assignment Courts (on a second day) that occurred in March, April, May and June this year. In one day, the presiding Assignment Court judge was faced with a list of 217 matters to be spoken to – 217 matters and over 100 lawyers in attendance. Via video conference. No small feat.
With such mass remote attendances to be the expected norm, at least in the coming weeks, here are some tips and things to be mindful of:
- Keep up with Notices to the Profession – The Central West region released a Notice to the Profession on June 25, 2020 – not two weeks prior to the new Assignment Court dates scheduled therein to address the adjourned matters from March to June. Notices were not sent to the parties directly. While there is undoubtedly a slew of information released these days as public health measures ease, these Notices should make the cut as to what is reviewed.
- Test the technology – Given the volume of matters and counsel to be dealt with, time is, of course, short. You do not want to be faced with having technical issues when your matter is called. It is important to test your connection, your mic, and your video capabilities (if necessary) prior to the attendance to ensure the process runs smoothly – particularly for the presiding judge.
- Consult with Counsel – While cooperation among counsel has always been important, it is likely more highly valued in the present circumstances than ever before, as has been alluded to by the judiciary. Reach out to other counsel prior to your attendance and narrow the issues to be addressed as much as possible. If the attendance relates to scheduling of future events, be aware of all steps to be taken and be cautious with time estimates, which are likely to be strictly adhered to in the future. Not only will this likely be more efficient for your case moving forward, but it will certainly help the presiding judge.
- Be prepared to wait – Again, with the volume of the backlog faced by the courts, mass attendances are likely to be a long process. Be patient. Also, be mindful that patience will likely be necessary on the other side of the attendance as well, if an event is being scheduled. Depending on the case, the court and the event being scheduled, you could well be in for a wait of over a year (or even two, as is the case with long trials in Brampton).
With the ongoing state of public health measures in light of COVID-19, and despite some narrow courthouse reopenings, it seems likely that it will be some time before we see the inside of a courtroom – particularly for more administrative events. Indeed, the efficiencies of remote hearings may well lead to them being a permanent protocol going forward, given the issues with litigation delays even prior to the pandemic.
As the courts adapt and embrace new protocols, it may be necessary to develop new practices to keep up, and we hope the foregoing might provide some assistance in that regard.