The novel coronavirus has had a devastating effect on the lives of everyone, in all walks of life, in every industry, all over the world. The legal industry is no different. 

The impacts are far-reaching. In addition to the closing of law offices everywhere, and lawyers working remotely, mainly from home, there are many other considerations for attorneys and their clients. 

After the province declared a state of emergency on March 17th, 2020 to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, long-standing practices are now being looked at in a different light, particularly those that have required face-to-face communication. Given the social distancing edicts by the province, and around the world, many practices are being altered. 

Let’s have a look at how the pandemic is affecting the justice system in Ontario. 

Court Operations

Regular court operations have been suspended during the state of emergency. Originally, all matters that were scheduled to appear in the Superior Court had been adjourned until further notice. Only “time sensitive and urgent” matters were being heard. 

Now, as things evolve, in an effort to minimize growing caseloads, the Court is expanding operations to matters beyond the most urgent matters, though everything will be heard remotely by way of telephone or videoconference.

For Toronto, all issues related to court matters during the pandemic are being addressed in the Notice to Profession – Toronto, as set out by the Superior Court of Justice  Regional Senior Judge for the Toronto Region, The Honourable Stephen E. Firestone.

Limitation Periods and Procedural Deadlines

An order in council dated March 20, 2020, has declared that limitation periods be suspended until the state of emergency has been lifted. This affects many procedural deadlines for lawyers and their clients, including but not limited to:

  • The basic two-year limitation period for issuing claims
  • The 6-month deadlines for serving claims once they have been issued, in addition to all other litigation deadlines
  • Specific deadlines for filing documents with courts or tribunals are suspended
  • Deadlines in the Ontario Arbitration Act are suspended

As this situation is evolving daily, it’s important to keep in mind that with the exception of the limitation periods, the procedural time limits are at the discretion of the court or tribunal. In addition, as of April 16th, the suspension of limitation periods and procedural deadlines no longer applies to the Construction Act. It’s important for all lawyers and clients to be vigilant in checking for the latest updates. 

Commissioning of Affidavits

The Law Society of Ontario has now endorsed virtual commissioning of affidavits. 

This means that the requirement that oaths and declarations be taken “in the presence of” the commissioner will not require physical presence during this period. Commissioning via alternate means such as videoconferencing will be accepted. 

It should be noted that any legal professional utilizing this type of virtual procedure is expected to take precautions to avoid certain risks such as fraud or identity theft. For instance, lawyers are being asked to record such videoconferences, with the permission of the parties involved. 

Wherever your case is in the justice system, be sure that you have a lawyer with the experience and knowledge to navigate your unique case through these troubling and unprecedented times. Brian A. Horowitz has been helping clients through serious personal injury matters for nearly 35 years. Call Horowitz Injury Law for a free phone or video consultation, to ensure that your case is handled in the most professional and expeditious manner possible during these difficult times. Call 416-925-4100.