All participants and members of the public that attend a virtual court proceeding must conduct themselves as if they were physically in the courtroom. We ask all individuals participating in virtual court proceedings to continue to observe the following well-established rules of court decorum. However, they are all subject to the directions of the presiding judge.
All participants and members of the public attending a virtual hearing should observe the following rules:
- Eliminate distractions, prepare and arrive on time:
(i) Try to locate a quiet area and minimize interruptions and distractions by others who may be around while you participate in the proceeding.
(ii) Turn off all electronic devices before entering the virtual proceeding apart from the one you are using to enter the virtual proceeding. This includes muting any notifications on your computer/device.
(iii) If participating in a virtual proceeding by videoconference, inappropriate profiles or background photos must not be used.
(iv) Check to ensure that you have a stable internet connection.
(v) To minimize distractions during the court proceeding, log in a few minutes before the scheduled start time. This will allow you to test your connectivity and audio before the judge arrives. Follow the Zoom (or other virtual platform) directions.
(vi) If you are joining the courtroom through Zoom, leave your video turned on unless the Court directs you to turn it off.
(vii) Mute your audio when not speaking and do not speak over others. Raise your hand when you wish to speak.
(i) Identify yourself when in the virtual meeting:
- If you are appearing in a Zoom courtroom, sign in with your last name followed by your first name. Participants, including litigants and witnesses, are also encouraged to proactively provide their prefix (e.g., Mr./Ms./Mrs./Mx., etc.) and/or pronouns (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.) when stating their name or by updating their screen name during a virtual proceeding.
- If you are appearing by phone, please disclose your identity immediately upon inquiry so that the court can rename you.
Dress appropriately for court when appearing via videoconference. Dress as you would if you were attending court in person. Hats or headwear are not permitted except for religious reasons. Sunglasses, including those on top of your head, must be removed before entering the virtual proceeding.
(i) Be courteous and respectful to all virtual court participants.
(ii) Participants must remain on mute until their matter is called.
(iii) If the judge determines that you are behaving in a disruptive or abusive manner, they may remove you from the meeting.
(iv) Do not bring food to the virtual courtroom. This includes chewing gum.
(v) When appearing via video, the only beverage permitted is water and it must be in a clear glass or container.
(vi) Do not use tobacco or vaping products in the virtual courtroom.
(vii) Do not prop your feet up on a table or chair when appearing via videoconference.
(viii) Do not walk around or step away during a videoconference meeting. If you need to step away from the meeting or divert your attention away from the screen during the meeting, advise the judge and stop your video.
Unless authorized by the judge, you shall not make any recording of the proceedings or take photos or screen captures of the proceedings. 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.
Additionally, all counsel should observe the following rules:
- Preparation in advance of the hearing:
(i) All counsel should ensure that their Internet connection and the Internet connection of any witnesses they intend to call is stable in advance of the hearing.
(ii) All counsel should join the hearing at least 15 minutes before the actual start time to ensure that there are no technological issues that could create a delay.
(iii) All counsel appearing in virtual proceedings must ensure that backgrounds are neutral and the setting is professional and appropriate for a court hearing, which specifically does not include the interior of a vehicle.
(iv) All counsel appearing in virtual proceedings must ensure that they are appearing from a private space free from any distractions, such as people or pets that could wander into the room.
- Identification and gowning:
(i) Counsel’s screen name must be surname then given name, unless otherwise directed by the court. Counsel are also encouraged to proactively provide their prefix (e.g., Mr./Ms./Mrs./Mx., etc.) and/or pronouns (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them, etc.) when stating their name or updating their screen name during a virtual proceeding.
(ii) Counsel must be gowned for any virtual proceeding that if conducted in person would require gowning. For greater clarity, unless a region-specific Practice Direction states otherwise, counsel are not required to gown for the following court attendances:
- Trial scheduling court (also known as assignment court, “speak to” court or “purge court”) in family, criminal or civil proceedings;
- Case conferences, settlement conferences, trial management conferences, or pre-trials; and
- Small Claims Court proceedings.
Counsel must be gowned for all other in-person or virtual proceedings.
- In-court etiquette:
(i) The judge and counsel should be addressed as if they were in a physical courtroom.
(ii) Unless directed otherwise by the court, it is not necessary to stand when a judge joins the hearing or when addressing a judge. In lieu of bowing to the judge, counsel may nod or bow their heads when the judge enters the video.
Additional information on best practices and etiquette for virtual hearings can be found at https://www.ontariocourts.ca/scj/notices-and-orders-covid-19/remote-hearings/.
Further guidance on best practices to anyone considering preparing for and participating in a remote hearing can be found at Best Practices for Remote Hearings Second Edition, May 28, 2021 – a document guidebook collaboratively developed 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.