B.C.’s courts are continuing a measured return to pre-COVID-19 operations although officials continue to ask that people stay away from courthouses unless necessary.
“The court has gradually resumed some regular operations, including trials, chambers applications and other hearings and conferences, many of which proceed remotely,” B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said in a July 7 directive.
“While the court has expanded the scope of its in-person operations, counsel, parties, litigants and members of the public are discouraged from attending courthouses unless their personal attendance is necessary or the court so directs,” he said.
B.C. Court of Appeal
In B.C.’s high court, the suspension of service and filing deadlines for existing appeals and chambers applications started March 18 and has been extended to July 27. As of July 14, parties may now request that appeal hearings proceed in a courtroom or by Zoom videoconference.
The court registry is accepting filings in all matters. In civil appeals, electronic filing remains mandatory for lawyers and optional for self-represented litigants.
The time periods for filing cases remains suspended.
“You can wait without concern that the limitation period to start civil or family proceedings will expire,” a July 7 directive from Chief Justice Robert Bauman said.
“Persons in the courtroom are not required to wear masks, but everyone may of course do so, except when addressing the Court at the hearing,” Bauman said. “Counsel/litigants must bring their own water supply and present their arguments from their own table (individual lecterns will be provided). Furniture will be cleaned and disinfected between hearings.”
B.C. Supreme Court
Effective July 13, in-person registry services will resume at all Supreme Court registries and the interim process for requesting a hearing of an urgent or essential matter will no longer be available, Hinkson said.
In criminal matters, bail and bail review hearings, detention review hearings, regular fix-date appearances and regular pre-trial conferences, COVID pre-trial conferences and case management conferences will continue by phone, a directive from Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said.
Those using registries are recommended to continue using electronic, mail or fax filings where possible.
For family law matters, parties are no longer automatically relieved of the requirement to attend a judicial case conference before making an application by written submissions but that can still be done via phone.
Judicial case conferences already scheduled to occur on or after June 1 will resume by phone.
Civil and family trials scheduled to begin on or after June 8 have resumed unless otherwise directed.
“The resumption of civil and family trials may be subject to change as a result of limitations on available facilities or public health recommendations,” Hinkson said.
Jury selections remain cancelled until September. In civil cases where a jury notice has been filed and served, if all parties consent to proceeding by judge alone, they may seek such an order at a trial management conference.
Effective April 15, a ministerial order suspended limitation periods and mandatory time periods for the commencement of a civil or family proceedings from March 18, 2020 to the date on which the last extension of the declaration of the state of emergency.
“Once this suspension is lifted, more directions will be provided by the court,” Hinkson said.
B.C. Provincial Court
Chief Judge Melissa Gillespie announced July 8, provincial court would return to receiving all filings at the applicable court registry either in-person or remotely.
The provincial court had already begun re-opening June 15 courtrooms on a limited basis outside hub centres of Surrey, Vancouver Victoria, Prince George, and Kelowna where limited in-person hearings began a week earlier.
As of July 8, 2020, registries will accept all family cases filings. Small claims filings will be accepted July 13 while urgent small claims matters will only be heard by telephone.
Full details of provincial court operations are available here.