During the past few months, businesses across Canada have had to adapt to our new reality as safety measures have been implemented to protect all citizens from the deadly virus. Many are working from home on laptops, and Zoom has become part of our everyday vocabulary.
The justice system has also had to adapt to the pandemic. In response to COVID-19, courts across Canada have changed dramatically in an effort to control the spread of the virus. Many, if not all, courts limited in person hearings to urgent matters only as health authorities directed suspension of regular business activities as of March 16, 2020, with a few exceptions.
In Alberta, the Court of Appeal continues to operate at full capacity. Prior to the shutdown of most courthouses, appeal matters were operating on an electronic case management system allowing these matters to transition seamlessly to remote hearings. All documentation is being electronically processed. Given that appeal hearings do not require any witnesses, these cases transitioned easily to remote hearings with oral arguments made by counsel alone.
Documents that were once only filed in person at courthouses can now be filed by lawyers over email. This has significantly reduced the amount of paperwork being handled by court clerks.
According to Chief Justice Mary Moreau, many of these changes in court operations will continue once the pandemic comes to an end.
The tragedy of the crisis has led to the urgency of putting into place some IT solutions, which will be in place for the long (haul) and affect some really fundamental changes in how we do our work in the court.
We are certainly heading in the direction of e-filing over the next several months, and it’s not something I’m going to give up. …[T]he moment you take away paper, you increase the efficiency of the court.
We as judges will have the entirety of a court file at our fingertips …. Members of the public and the bar will file their documents electronically and not need to visit the courthouse.
REQUEST FOR PATIENCE AND COOPERATION
On May 27, 2020, the chief justices and judge of the Alberta courts wrote an open letter to the Canadian Bar Association (Alberta branch) and the Law Society of Alberta outlining the process by which the courts plan to resume regular sittings as COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen up in the province.
The letter requested that Alberta’s lawyers cooperate and schedule remote hearings where possible and appreciate that trials adjourned due to COVID-19 safety measures would receive priority when scheduling in-person hearings from June through August.
Alberta lawyers are requested to be patient during this time when the justice system is attempting to adapt as quickly as possible to this change in circumstances. Lawyers are being directed to the court’s websites, which offer online resources.
Lawyers are also being asked to consider options outside of the courthouse to settle their cases, such as arbitration, mediation, and four-way meetings within the family or civil litigation context (i.e. those involving two lawyers and two clients).
The letter indicates that additional sanitation measures are being implemented in the courthouses and some courtrooms are being equipped with plexiglass shields. The Justices and Judge also informed the Alberta law bar that the Queen’s Bench will not be taking their annual summer recess and will proceed with hearings throughout July and August of this year.
COVID-19 STAGED RESUMPTION OF COURT OPERATIONS – PART 1
The COVID-19 Staged Resumption of Court Operations – Part 1 plan covers the period between May 25, 2020 to July 3, 2020. It is a plan which outlines the resumption of court operations in Alberta, while also taking the public health guidelines into consideration. However, operations may differ from location to location depending upon the public guidelines operating in a particular locale.
Courthouses throughout Alberta continue to restrict visitors and are only allowing counsel, litigants, accused, witnesses, support workers and members of the media. Public health guidelines are being enforced, including all social distancing protocols.
With regards to civil litigation, there are no in person appearances permitted during part 1 of the resumption of court operations plan. Pre-trial conferences, simplified trials and binding judicial disputes will proceed by teleconference or videoconference up until July 3, 2020. Trials scheduled during this period will be subject to a case management conference by teleconference or videoconference. If the matter cannot proceed to trial by telephone or video conference, it will be adjourned to a later date.
As the province of Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers will continue to follow the developments and update any changes in this blog.
In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding your personal injury or medical malpractice case please contact our office at 403-571-0555 or online. Our business remains open and we are committed to the health and safety of our community while operating under the suggested social distancing guidelines recommended by the Canadian government and health professionals.
Choosing a personal injury lawyer to represent you or a loved one in your time of need is not a decision to be taken lightly. As a firm of lawyers who specialize in personal injury law and medical malpractice, the experienced lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers have a strong reputation in the community and in the legal profession.
At Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers, we strive to provide our clients with excellent legal services, and we offer a free consultation. Out personal injury lawyers are happy to answer any questions you may have regarding hiring a lawyer for your personal injury or medical malpractice case. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.