In response to the rising COVID-19 cases, a declaration of Emergency was made on January 12, 2021, for all of Ontario. With the declaration of Emergency came new provincial restrictions on January 14, 2021. In light of these restrictions, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has suspended jury trials until May 3, 2021, at the earliest. Per the update from Chief Justice Morawetz on January 13, 2021, no new jury trials or jury selections will proceed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice until May 3, 2021, at the earliest. Matters that are already in progress may continue at the trial judge’s discretion.
On April 20, 2020, over a month after the first declaration of Emergency was made for Ontario, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice clarified that any in-person hearings would be suspended until at least July 6, 2020, and new civil jury selections would be suspended until September 2020 at the earliest. As the case numbers abated over the summer, Courts began to assemble new juries in September of 2020. In October 2020, jury trials were again suspended in certain regions due to rising case numbers. The January 13, 2021 update extends and broadens the December 14, 2020 update, which extended the jury trial suspensions in all areas except “Green Zones” to February 1, 2020. The suspension now applies to all trials at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
Chief Justice Morawetz notes that non-jury matters should proceed virtually unless it is “absolutely necessary” to hold the proceedings in-person, and all other avenues should be explored and implemented “to the greatest extent possible.”
It is too early to speculate whether we can expect jury selections will recommence on May 3, 2021, or if the suspension will be extended once again. With the current number of COVID-19 cases and ICU admissions, the Court has cautiously set a date almost four months away. In the meantime, Ontarians will hopefully get a better sense of when jury trials can proceed safely.
If new jury selections recommend May 3, 2021, they may only be allowed in select courthouses, such as those in select “Zones.” Safety protocols, such as masks and glass barriers, will likely continue to be in effect even when such matters can proceed.
The continued suspension of jury trials, albeit necessary, will likely result in an increased backlog of civil trials. Even prior to the pandemic, civil trials were being booked two to three years in advance due to Court resources being diverted to criminal matters, following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in R v. Jordan 2016 SCC 27. Unfortunately, with the latest directive, litigants in civil matters should anticipate the backlog to increase.
At Bogoroch & Associates LLP, we understand that justice delayed is justice denied. We strive to achieve excellent results expeditiously. Upon being retained, we will provide you both a tailored timeline of when we expect your matter to be resolved and a roadmap on how we intend to do so.