New Observe Instructions for Household Courts in Ontario

Ontario Household Courts are going again to in-person hearings – in lots of circumstances.  

That is in keeping with the May 30, 2023 Memorandum from the Chief Justice of the Ontario Superior Courtroom of Justice, addressed to the province’s legal professionals and judges.

The Chief Justice advises that efficient June 15, 2023, new and consolidated Practice Directions will come into power, and can assist rework Household Courtroom proceedings into one thing with extra flexibility than we noticed pre-pandemic. 

The New Directives

The 53-page Household Courtroom Observe Instructions cowl lots of matters of curiosity to litigants, their legal professionals, and the judges themselves.  However one of many key directives entails the foundations round when a listening to can/have to be held in-person, and when it may be held just about.  

The Observe Instructions in the end go away that call to the courtroom, however it set “presumptive pointers” that stipulate the default sort of attendance for every type of continuing.   As only a few examples:

  • All trials are held in particular person except all events consent to a digital trial and the courtroom approves.
  • All pressing motions might be heard by videoconference, except the courtroom specifies a special methodology on the time of scheduling.  
  • Conversely, all settlement conferences, and trial administration conferences with a settlement focus, are held in-person except the courtroom approves a special methodology prematurely.

Nevertheless, a Household Courtroom can deviate from these rulings after making an allowance for what are known as “over-arching ideas” in how the presumptive pointers ought to be utilized.  They bear in mind an assortment of information, akin to: 

  • The problems within the continuing; 
  • The anticipated size of the listening to; 
  • The evidentiary report; 
  • The standing of the events (e.g. self-represented or not); and 
  • The members’ entry to expertise. 

The Observe Instructions additionally expressly acknowledge the advantages of each in-person and distant hearings, and permit for a hybrid possibility in some situations. (There are some said exceptions, akin to Contempt of Courtroom hearings which should all the time happen in particular person).

Apparently, the Observe Instructions additionally permit for regional variations to those normal guidelines dictating how specified proceedings are to be heard. Because the Observe Route explains:

The next pointers set out the Courtroom’s expectations for the default methodology of look for all household occasions that might be utilized throughout the province.  Nevertheless, the Courtroom additionally acknowledges that some Areas, particularly the Northwest, Northeast and people with circuiting judges, would require larger flexibility in listening to extra circumstances just about.

Our Take 

So far as a post-pandemic mannequin goes, we predict these newest pronouncements take a extra average strategy – no less than as in comparison with the earlier Superior Courtroom edicts that favoured in-person hearings. 

However in our view, they’re nonetheless a missed alternative to modernize the system, and to enhance entry to justice.

We predict that each one Household Courtroom hearings ought to presumptively be held remotely.  That is one of the best, most effective, and most cost-effective route for dishing out Household justice within the province – and the previous three years has confirmed that it could work.  (And naturally litigants preferring to proceed in-person ought to be given each probability to take action). 

What are your ideas on this newest post-pandemic directive from the Courts?