Notice to the Profession re: Justice Participants Unable to attend In-Court Hearings in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (July 21, 2020)

On July 6, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice resumed in-court hearings in certain court locations following health and safety recommendations from public health officials which were implemented by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Each week, further courtrooms are re-opening across the province after the recommended health and safety measures are implemented, allowing more matters to be heard in courthouses.

The Ontario government has more information about the reopening of courtrooms, the health and safety measures put in place, the requirement to self-screen before entry, and the expectations of all court users, which is accessible here.

I also recognize that some counsel, parties and justice participants may be uncomfortable attending a courthouse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some may have underlying health conditions, or live with someone who does, or have childcare issues arising from the pandemic. Many may not wish to disclose personal health information. Accordingly, I have encouraged all judicial officers, when exercising their authority, to be flexible and to respect the various reasons why an individual may not be comfortable attending a courthouse in person. The feasibility of a virtual hearing is to be explored, when requested. Similarly, I encourage counsel and parties to be accommodating when requests for virtual hearings are made by opposing counsel or parties.

Requests to have matters heard virtually or in writing – rather than in-person – should be made to the judge or local trial coordinator at the time the hearing is requested and before it is scheduled. Last minute requests to reschedule matters places unnecessary, additional burdens on trial coordinators, and may prejudice or inconvenience opposing counsel, parties and witnesses.

I thank you for your cooperation.

Geoffrey B. Morawetz,
Chief Justice