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Guidelines re: Remote Hearings in the Ontario Court of Justice

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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, some court proceedings are being held remotely by videoconference (video link) or by audioconference (telephone).

You may receive a meeting invitation to join a remote hearing by email. For some court proceedings (e.g., case management court), the meeting information may be posted by the Court on the Ontario Court of Justice website.

If the hearing is a videoconference hearing, it will take place using the Zoom platform or the JVN (Justice Video Network) WebRTC platform.

For more detailed instructions on participating in a court hearing using the Zoom or JVN platforms, please see the ZOOM User Guide for Remote Hearings in the Ontario Court of Justice or the JVN WebRTC Manual.

If the hearing is a telephone hearing, the call will be arranged by the court and either you will call in, or the court will call you, so that you can participate. The court might call from an unknown number (the caller might appear, for example, as ‘No Caller ID’).

To ensure participation in remote hearings is as effective as possible, participants should follow these guidelines. The directions of the presiding judicial official should always be followed.

  1. No recording/photographs/live streaming. It is an offence under section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act, and may constitute contempt of court, to record, photograph, publish or broadcast court proceedings without express permission of the presiding judicial official.  Some proceedings may also have publication bans in effect, which make it a criminal offence to publish or broadcast certain information that may be referred to during a court hearing.  The Court’s Protocol Regarding the Use of Electronic Communication Devices in Court Proceedings remains in effect.
  2. Find a suitable location. Please make reasonable efforts to find a quiet, private space. If you are participating by videoconferencing, please ensure your background is appropriate and does not display anything private or that may be considered offensive to other participants. Do not join a remote hearing while in a moving vehicle.
  3. Minimize disruptions. To minimize disruptions and to improve connection speed if you are joining a hearing by a smartphone or computer device, close unnecessary apps and windows on your device, especially video streaming. Turn off other devices in your vicinity and turn off notifications and alarms on the device you are using for the remote hearing.
  4. Check your bandwidth before video hearings. If the hearing is a video hearing, make sure you have sufficient bandwidth (minimum 1 Mbps; for best connection, you need 3 Mbps). You can test your connection speed at the following link: https://www.speedtest.net/.  If you have low bandwidth, it is best to connect to internet via ethernet cable and not on WiFi, if at all possible.
  5. Join early. Please be prepared to join the remote court hearing at least 15 minutes before your scheduled appearance time. You should allow yourself time to address any technical problems before your scheduled appearance.The instructions in the ZOOM User Guide for Remote Hearings in the Ontario Court of Justice or the JVN WebRTC Manual explain how you can test things out before the hearing.If you need technical support when using Zoom, please contact Zoom’s Help Center.If you need support with the JVN WebRTC platform, you can email the JVN team at JVNVirtualCourtSupport@ontario.ca. Provide a clear description of your issue and the best way to contact you for troubleshooting.
  6. Charge your device. Make sure your phone or device is charged or connected to power so it does not run out of battery during the hearing – video calls can use up battery quickly.
  7. Joining a hearing by phone. A land line is better than a cell phone. If you do not have a land line, then try to ensure that you have good quality reception for a phone hearing.  If you live somewhere with poor phone signal but have WiFi, check if you can switch your phone to ‘WiFi calling’ so you can connect by phone through your WiFi.
  8. Dress appropriately. If you are appearing by videoconferencing, please wear clothing appropriate for the formal court environment.  Legal representatives must be dressed in proper business attire.  Do not wear any clothing with inappropriate images or language.
  9. Identify yourself. If you connect with videoconferencing on Zoom, your screen name should be your given name and surname.All participants on the call, including the presiding judicial official, can see your screen name. If you connect by audio to a videoconference on Zoom, only your phone number will appear.
  10. Wait for your case to be called. The Court may have multiple cases scheduled. Please be patient and wait until the Court is ready to address your case. For case management court appearances, please check the schedule for your courthouse on the Ontario Court of Justice website beforehand so you know the right time of day to join the hearing. This will minimize your waiting time.
  11. Mute your microphone. Until your case is addressed by the court, mute your microphone. This will minimize background noise. If you are using a computer, close all other applications (such as social media) so you are not distracted or interrupted during the proceeding. This will also improve the quality of the video connection.
  12. Identify yourself when speaking. It is important that the Court knows the identity of all participants. State your name before you speak. Please speak clearly and slowly. Remember to unmute before speaking.
  13. Wait your turn to speak. It is important that everyone takes turns speaking. The judge or justice of the peace will require that two people do not talk at the same time or interrupt one another.
  14. No food or drink. Please do not eat or drink anything but water during the court proceeding.
  15. Papers / Documents. Have the most important documents related to your case with you so that if somebody refers to a page or document you know what they are talking about. If you wish to refer to documents during the hearing, make sure you have them with you for the hearing.
  16. If you require an interpreter, please contact your local courthouse before your appearance. Court staff will explain the process to you to ensure an interpreter is present.
  17. Technical difficulties during the hearing. If you are struggling to see, hear or follow the hearing, you should let the Court know at the time. If you are participating by videoconferencing, you can do this by speaking, putting your hand up, or (on the Zoom platform) pressing a button to raise a ‘virtual’ hand. If you are joining a Zoom hearing by telephone, you can put your hand up by pressing *9.
  18. Getting disconnected from the hearing. If you lose the connection to the hearing, you should immediately try to rejoin the hearing. Keep the joining instructions (meeting information and passcodes) nearby so that you know where to find them if you are disconnected.

You may also wish to read Best Practices for Remote Hearings, prepared by the joint E-Hearings Task Force of The Advocates’ Society, the Ontario Bar Association, the Federation of Ontario Law Associations, and the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association.