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Ontario Court of Justice Pandemic Response Plan – Directive Regarding Matters in Family Court (March 15, 2020)

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The directives on this page have been superseded or replaced by subsequent directives published on the Ontario Court of Justice public website at:
https://uat.ontariocourts.ca/ocj/covid-19/notices-and-info-re-family/ They are included here for reference only.

Public health officials have recommended that measures be taken to reduce the amount of time individuals spend in large crowds or in crowded spaces to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in a community.  With that in mind, the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice has directed the following procedure to reduce the number of people who attend court for family matters.

This directive is effective as of March 16, 2020.

COURTHOUSES WILL REMAIN OPEN

We have a constitutional role that must be exercised on a continuing basis. For the time being, all courthouses will remain open, but we are taking every step to reduce the number of people attending at the courthouse.

HEARING OF PRIORITY MATTERS

LAJs, in consultation with their RSJs, must prioritize the hearing of matters whereby the loss of the courts’ jurisdiction may occur and/or are considered urgent over other domestic and/or child protection matters which do not include these considerations.

Matters falling within these categories include:

  • Child, Youth, Family Services Act: place of safety hearings (s.90); temporary care and custody hearings (s.94), restraining orders (s.137), status review hearings (s.113), and secure treatment orders (s.161);
  • Domestic matters: urgent custody/access motions; motions for restraining orders; Hague applications and non-Hague abduction cases; and
  • Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act: refraining motions (s.35).

The Family Law Rules permit conferences and/or motions to be heard by telephone and/or video conferencing. Priority matters will be heard in accordance with this process and held on the record.

Courts Services Division (CSD) will provide dedicated telephone lines and/or arrange video conferencing to assist with this process.

Litigants and/or counsel will be required to provide electronically through a dedicated email address, or in the alternative through a dedicated fax number, their documents for the hearing.

Documents that are not complete and/or do not fall within the priority category may be returned to the parties and/or counsel with instructions by CSD. CSD may seek judicial input, if necessary, in such instances.

CSD will ensure that separate folders, for child protection and domestic matters, are created within the shared drive to ensure confidentiality of child protection matters.

Legal Aid Ontario will ensure that duty counsel is available to qualifying litigants for these hearings.

A family court clerk and/or family court counter staff with family matter knowledge/experience will be responsible for:

  • Scheduling of the hearing by conference call or video conference and advising counsel (including LAO Duty Counsel and OCL) and parties;
  • Receiving and scanning documents into a shared drive and FRANK;
  • Arranging for interpretation services, if necessary;
  • Ensuring access to the designated judge of the “filed” documents for the hearing and other documents contained in the Continuing Record, if requested by the judge;
  • Forwarding endorsements to litigants and/or counsel at the completion of the hearing; and
  • Preparing, if necessary, and/or receiving orders; signing, dating and sealing of orders, entering into FRANK and Continuing Record and forwarding complete orders to counsel and/or parties, electronically and/or by mail.

A designated judge shall preside over the hearing.

Following the completion of the hearing, the designated judge with assistance from the court staff will adjourn the matter. The court staff will provide the designated judge with adjournment dates.

ADJOURNMENTS

All non-urgent matters, including trials, should be adjourned for 8-12 weeks. In anticipation of the number of adjournments, efforts will be made to set up additional courts to accommodate increased dockets.

Adjournment requests can be made to the Trial Co-ordinator’s office, preferably by 17F confirmation forms forwarded to a dedicated fax number, by telephone through a specific telephone number or by email through a dedicated email address. Counsel and/or parties are encouraged to identify dates that they are not available in order to assist in the scheduling of the matter.

Adjournment requests will be dealt with by the TC. Counsel and/or parties will be advised of the adjournment date by the TC or court staff as soon as possible.

All non-urgent 14B motions should not be filed until further notice.