I hope you are well and safe during these challenging times? I am writing to advise you on recent developments in the British Columbia Courts. In a nutshell, this is first time in the entire history of the B.C. courts that the courts have been closed to normal operations. The Courts are working hard to adapt to these challenges.
Suspension of BC Court Operations (Supreme Court and Provincial Court): As you know, the Courts suspended normal operations on March 18, 2020. While the suspension period continues until May 30th, the Courts have been gradually expanding their scope of proceedings that can be heard and filings that can be made. On April 29th, the Courts announced further expansions of the scope of applications and procedures during the suspension period. Please see the BC Courts’ COVID 19 Update attached below.
While neither the Supreme Court or Provincial Court has recovered full operations, certain materials can be filed at the Court registries and certain “urgent” court applications can be heard.
Depending on further directions concerning social distancing from the BC Ministry of Health, the Courts may resume something approaching normal operations by June 1st.
We expect to hear again from the Courts on or before May 30th.
Supreme Court Operations during the Suspension Period: In Supreme Court civil proceedings, certain “urgent matters” may be heard by videoconference during the suspension period, provided the court application concerns a single issue and the supporting affidavit materials do not exceed 10 pages (including attachments). Urgency is a matter to be determined by the Court and it can extend to financial urgency.
Most court documents, including all initiating documents, may now be filed at the Court Registries by way of E-filings, electronic filings. This will include Petitions and Notices of Civil Claim.
Having said that, the Court will not permit any action or enforce any deadline for a response on a filed document unless it fits within the criteria of an “urgent application”, or an application which already was set for hearing during the suspension period.
Examinations for Discovery may be conducted by video-conference.
Provincial Court: Similarly, in Provincial Court certain “urgent” applications may be made by telephone conference.
Also, certain documents may be submitted at the Provincial Court Registry electronically, yet this list is still quite restrictive. It includes: Affidavit of Service and Notice to the Claimant (although the matter will not be set at this time).
The Provincial Court is working towards Settlement Conferences being conducted by telephone conference.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – Mediation and Settlement: Of course, there is no restriction on alternative dispute resolution methods outside of the Courts. The reality, in most civil cases, is that ADR processes work the best, when the alternative is Court Proceeding. For the time being we have somewhat lost the coercive power of courts to enforce the Rule of law.
I would, nevertheless, encourage all clients to use this opportunity to arrive at meaningful settlement positions. This would be a good time to present settlement proposals.
Supreme Court of British Columbia expansion of civil and family matters – applications by written submissions Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson has expanded the scope of applications that can proceed by way of written submissions pursuant to Ministerial Order No. M121. To see the order of the Chief Justice, click here. For more details about bringing an application by written submissions, click here. Booking for applications by written submissions will only be available online. The court will announce when online booking is available, expected by May 8, 2020.
Provincial Court commencing recovery of some court functions The Provincial Court of British Columbia has issued a Notice to the Profession and Public that sets out its plan to commence court operations that can be done remotely by audioconference (including telephone) or videoconference. The notice provides details of the plan regarding family (including child protection and maintenance enforcement), small claims, criminal (adult and youth), public health emergency matters, traffic ticket or bylaw matters, and circuit courts. Further information may be found in the full Notice to the Profession and Public.
Provincial Court practice direction on pre-trial conferences for criminal files The Provincial Court of British Columbia has issued a practice direction mandating pre-trial conferences for criminal files (adult and youth) at all Provincial Court locations in the province, with pre-trial conferences commencing being heard on May 4, 2020. The overarching aim of the practice direction is to reduce inefficiencies in the criminal justice system by employing pre-trial conferences as a tool for the participants to collaborate and conduct cases more efficiently. Using pre-trial conferences to help reduce day of trial collapse rates and trial continuations is an important part of the commitment to upholding an accused’s right to trial in a reasonable time. Further information may be found in the full Provincial Court practice direction.