Courts across Canada forced to adopt new practices to make it possible to hear applications in a safe and efficient manner, and as a result, have been required to modernize considerably in the past nine months. We have previously addressed the pausing of jury trials in the province and the pressure to resume them with COVID safety precautions in place.
Now that courts have largely been operating remotely when possible, holding conferences and hearings via video or telephone conference, the province’s Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”) will be incorporating a number of changes in the new year to reflect the new reality for courtrooms throughout the province. Ontario Regulation 689/20 is set to amend the Rules pursuant to the Courts of Justice Act as of January 1, 2021.
Below, we will outline some of the key changes to expect once the Regulation comes into effect.
Method of Hearing
Starting in January, any party seeking a hearing or another step in a proceeding that requires the attendance of other parties will specify the method by which they’d like the hearing or step to proceed. The options are video conference, teleconference or in person. If another party objects to the method chosen by the first party, they can deliver a notice of objection, which must be submitted within 10 days of the original document being served, or at least 7 days before the hearing is set to take place; whichever is earlier. If a notice of objection is filed, the court will then make a determination at a conference dedicated to determining the method of hearing. In doing so, the court will consider a number of factors including the availability of video or telephone conference equipment, the importance of the evidence to be reviewed, and the impact a remote conference may have on the court’s ability to properly assess the evidence.
It is important to note that this does not apply to hearings or other conferences before the Court of Appeal. In those cases, the method of the hearing will be determined by the Court.
Electronic Court Filings
Parties will be required to submit all filings associated with a hearing through the new software program called Caselines, where the program is available. This program has been adopted by Ontario’s courts as the electronic method to submit all filings. According to a supplementary notice to the profession from the Superior Court of Justice, Caselines is described as follows:
CaseLines is a user-friendly cloud-based document sharing and storage e-hearing platform for remote and in-person court proceedings. Some of the many benefits of CaseLines include:
materials of any size and file format can be uploaded and easily organized
users can make private notes and highlights on documents
terms can be searched in all uploaded documents
parties can navigate documents and redirect opposing counsel and the court to view specific sections, and
users can view uploaded materials anytime
Users must be sure that any documents submitted via Caselines are identical to the original document, and they must retain originals for a certain period of time. Caselines is in use in some judicial jurisdictions, primarily in Toronto, but is being rolled out to other jurisdictions throughout 2021. It is expected to be in use by all Ontario judicial jurisdictions by the end of the year.
Electronic Signatures and Orders
The Rules are also being amended to allow for electronic signatures by judges and other officers of the court. Further, courts will be permitted to issue orders to the parties electronically, via email. This will allow parties to obtain copies of orders conveniently and safely, eliminating the need to attend at the courthouse to obtain a paper copy. In jurisdictions where Caselines is in use, the court may issue an order via Caselines instead of by direct email.
These changes, while intended to address concerns related to the pandemic, will go a long way to modernizing Ontario’s court proceedings, which have been largely stagnant for a number of years. With court dockets packed with cases and waiting times longer than ever, the hope is that adopting these modern conveniences will also help the courts address issues in a more expeditious manner.
The lawyers at Prudent Law in Mississauga are trusted advocates in any type of civil litigation. We provide practical advice and passionate representation in both litigation and alternative dispute resolution options. If you are facing a legal dispute and you’d like to discuss it with one of our experienced litigation lawyers, please call us at 905-361-9789 or contact us online.