While Ontario was under the effect of a state of emergency, many places of business were shuttered and people were expected to remain at home with the exception of essential travel. As a result of the measures taken to limit the spread of COVID-19, Ontario’s courts were largely closed to all but urgent matters. However, as Ontario is now in stage 3 and many businesses and services are resuming, courts are looking at expanding services, and what changes are needed to make the process as safe as possible. Given the prolonged closure, it is expected that there will be backlogs throughout the province.
To help ease the burden imposed on litigants, limitation periods and timing for procedural matters have also been paused, with some exceptions. Below, we will provide information on the current status of litigation in Ontario and advise on alternative means that people can use to move their matter along as quickly as possible.
Court Hearings During COVID-19
Depending on the region, Ontario courts are beginning to expand services, although hearings are still largely being held remotely via writing, teleconference or video conference. Courts will hear some matters in person, however, this will be limited. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice expects to have additional courtrooms available for in-person matters beginning in mid-September. All jury matters will be delayed until at least September.
Even though services are resuming, most matters are still going to face considerable delays before a court. In addition to the current restrictions on hearings, there will be a backlog of matters looking to go before the courts once services resume in full. Parties with civil matters may want to consider alternative arrangements to progress their matters more quickly, especially in the interim.
Limitation Periods and Procedural Rules
In light of the current court restrictions, many limitation periods and other timing requirements under the Civil Rules of Practice and Procedure have been put on hold for the time being. This has been done to protect parties from being unnecessarily disadvantaged by time passing during the current closures. Ordinarily, most civil matters have a standard 2-year limitation period to begin an action from the date the matter was discovered, or ought to have been discovered. While the restrictions are in place almost all limitation periods have been paused until September 11, with limited exceptions.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Options
For parties looking to move ahead quickly, it is possible to move a matter forward more quickly by using alternative methods of dispute resolution including mediation and arbitration, instead of going before a court. These processes can be carried out remotely, via video or teleconference, allowing parties to begin the process now, and still maintain all social distancing obligations recommended by both the federal and provincial health authorities.
There are benefits to these options in addition to the ability to move forward quickly. Mediation and arbitration can largely be structured according to the parties involved, from the location to the choice of adjudicator or mediator. Even prior to the pandemic restrictions, alternative dispute resolution methods have had the capability to operate completely remotely, allowing parties to participate from across the country or even across international borders.
Further, unlike a court proceeding, mediations and arbitrations can be conducted in complete confidence. They are not open to the public, and the parties can choose to keep all aspects of the proceeding private and out of public view.
Seek Advice from an Experienced Civil Litigation Lawyer for Advice on Moving a Matter Forward
Despite the fact that limitation periods have largely been suspended and the courts remain restricted in terms of activity, it is advisable that any party with a potential civil action seek the advice of a lawyer quickly to protect their interests. Our litigation lawyers can provide sound advice on timing requirements and advise on other possible methods for resolution in order to move a matter along in the meantime.
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.