Home » COVID-19 Notices and Updates (Updated May 22, 2020) » Notice Regarding Media and Public Access to Ontario Court of Justice Proceedings during the COVID-19 Pandemic (revised May 15, 2020)

Notice Regarding Media and Public Access to Ontario Court of Justice Proceedings during the COVID-19 Pandemic (revised May 15, 2020)

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The Ontario Court of Justice has introduced temporary processes to ensure members of the media and the public continue to have access to court proceedings and, where possible, documents during the COVID-19 pandemic, while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved.

This is an unprecedented situation. To help reduce the spread of the virus, courts across the country have restricted public access. The Ontario Court of Justice recognizes that this means it is more important than ever to uphold the open courts principle by ensuring media representatives can safely cover the matters that are being heard during the pandemic.

These temporary processes will remain in place until further notice. The goal is for the Courts to return to normal operations, including normal access, as soon as possible.

Access to Court Proceedings

Some proceedings are being adjourned through early July. Media representatives and the public are strongly encouraged to review the details about the scheduling of proceedings in the Ontario Court of Justice, including Provincial Offences Act matters, here.

Attendance in courtrooms continues to be restricted to the judicial official, essential court staff, and those attending for urgent and/or essential intake court functions, with physical distancing measures to be strictly enforced in the courtrooms and throughout the courthouse. Wherever possible, matters are proceeding remotely by telephone or video.

To help reduce in-person contact and respect physical distancing, members of the media will be permitted to participate in proceedings remotely by telephone or video. Members of the general public may also make a request to hear or observe a proceeding. Participation remains subject to the conditions below and may, in some circumstances be subject to technological restrictions (such as limits on the number of callers who can be connected through a single dial-in number).

To request information for remote hearing access, please contact your local courthouse directly by email and include “Hearing Access Request” in the subject line. Include your name, the hearing you wish to hear/observe, and your contact information. Email contact information for Ontario courthouses are available here and phone numbers are available here.

The following conditions apply:

  • Attendance remains subject to any judicial direction or order provided;
  • Some proceedings are closed to the public by legislation or court order;
  • It remains the responsibility of members of the public and media who attend court proceedings to inform themselves of the circumstances under which publication bans may be in effect and to ensure compliance with those bans;
  • You must not take photos or video of the proceeding, unless you have obtained permission under s. 136 of the Courts of Justice Act, which restricts recordings by a member of the public of a court hearing;
  • The Court’s Protocol Regarding the Use of Electronic Communication Devices in Court Proceedings remains in effect; Members of the media may make an audio recording of the proceeding for note-taking purposes only if the presiding judicial officer is advised before the recording is commenced; Members of the public are permitted to make audio recordings for note-taking purposes only if the express permission of the presiding judicial officer is first obtained. These audio recordings cannot be transmitted;
  • If connected remotely through a cellphone, it must be on mute during the proceedings; if using a landline, you must be in a quiet room, so as not to disrupt the proceedings; if connecting to a video hearing the mic on your device must be on mute
  • If connected by court staff or, if provided with call-in information, you must be connected not later than 5 minutes prior to the commencement of the proceeding in order to minimize disruption; if not available at the set time or if the call is lost, the Court will not disrupt the proceedings to connect you;
  • If provided with call-in information, it must not be distributed and is not to be used other than for the purpose of access to the proceeding requested.

Access to Court Dockets

As a result of the recent changes to regular court operations in the Ontario Court of Justice, the Daily Court Lists online service is limited.

At present, the Ontario Court of Justice is providing hearing information relating to criminal bail and plea matters through the online daily court lists. All hearings are remote hearings unless a judicial official orders otherwise.

Sometimes, an accused may plead guilty and resolve their matters unexpectedly. Those cases will not be shown on the website.

The types of matters listed will be expanded as those matters are resumed and can be accurately included in the daily lists. Full daily court lists will be restored as soon as it is possible to do so.

Please review the Court’s scheduling directives, which provide important information about those matters which are proceeding or subject to adjournments and follow the procedures set out above to obtain remote attendance information.

Please contact local court staff for information about a matter you believe is ongoing that is not shown on the website. Email contact information for Ontario courthouses are available here and phone numbers are available here.

Media representatives who wish to inquire about the status of a specific proceeding may contact MAG-Media@ontario.ca.

Access to Court Documents

Do not attend in person at a courthouse to request access to a court document. Media representatives and members of the general public may make a request for access for documents by contacting local courthouse staff by email here.

Access requests will be prioritized to ensure urgent matters scheduled before the court are proceeding. Access will be provided in accordance with existing access policies. Due to the reduced staff levels at courthouses, there may be delay in fulfilling requests.

Access to Audio Recordings of Court Proceedings

The Policy Regarding Access to Digital Audio Recordings continues to apply to requests for access to audio recordings of OCJ proceedings. However, you should not attend in-person to request access to a digital audio recording. Urgent requests by email from media representatives and the public can be made to local courthouse staff here. Due to the reduced staff levels at courthouses, there may be delay in responding to requests.