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Update on Operational Changes Impacting BC Courts

25-Mar-20

By McLennan Ross Litigation Team

This article was updated on March 31, 2020

 

Updates as of March 31st:

 

Essential Services:

  • On March 26, 2020, the British Columbia government classified the work of lawyers and paralegals to be essential services;
  • Law offices are permitted to remain open where remote business practices are not feasible;
  • Further information can be found here.

Courts:

  • Suspension of limitation periods:
    • As of March 26, 2020, the time periods for commencing a civil action, proceeding, claim or appeal in British Columbia are suspended by Ministerial Order;
    • The suspension will continue until the date that the declaration of a state of emergency regarding COVID-19 expires or is cancelled in British Columbia;
    • The BCOnLine registry system is available to process document filing requests.
  • Update on changes to Provincial Court :
    • The Provincial Court has suspended regular operations at all locations;
    • Some locations have been closed and urgent matters will proceed in designated “HUB” locations;
    • The BCOnLine registry system is available to process document filing requests.
  • Update on changes to Supreme Court of British Columbia:
    • Supreme Court registries are no longer providing in-person registry services during the suspension of the Court’s regular operations;
    • The Supreme Court has designated certain processes to follow for document requests for urgent hearings where a person is unable to use the electronic process established by the Court, or for regular filings that are not defined as essential and urgent;
    • For civil matters, documents can be filed the following ways:
      • E-filing using the BCOnLine Registry system;
      • Fax filing at a registry designated as a fax filing registry;
      • Mailing to any Supreme Court registry;
      • Using the secure drop box available from 9 am to 4 pm Monday to Friday at Supreme Court registries.
    • More information can be found here.

 

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Courts and other related government services are experiencing disruptions. McLennan Ross LLP is monitoring the situation as it unfolds and is continually looking for solutions to ensure the continuity of service to our clients.

Government services:

  • Essential government operations and services to residents will continue, including:
    • All Front CounterBC in-person services are closed as of March 20, 2020. Telephone, online and email services are still available;
    • Service BC remains open to the public as of March 23, 2020;
    • The Land Titles Office front counter is closed until further notice. Electronic filing will continue via LTSA; and
    • A variety of services including electronic court filing and corporate registry services are provided through the BCOnLine government registry system link.

Courts:

Each level of Court in British Columbia has implemented specific changes to its normal practice as a result of COVID-19:

British Columbia Court of Appeal:

  • In circumstances wherein an affiant is unable to appear before a commissioner, the Court of Appeal has allowed for accommodations to be made. More information here;
  • Parties should continue to file and serve notices of appeal or applications for leave to appeal within the required time periods and the Court of Appeal registry will continue to accept filing;
  • New civil appeals and applications for leave to appeal should be made electronically, by fax or by mail;
  • After filing and serving new notices of appeal or applications for leave to appeal, all subsequent filing and service deadlines will be suspended and will start to run again beginning May 4, 2020, unless otherwise directed;
  • The filing and service deadlines for all existing appeals, existing applications for leave to appeal, or other existing matters before the Court of Appeal are suspended and will start to run again beginning May 4, 2020, except for those matters designated by the Chief Justice as matters that must proceed, or unless otherwise directed;
  • Parties should not file any new materials related to existing appeals, existing applications for leave to appeal, or other existing matters prior to May 4, 2020, unless advised that the appeal is a matter that must proceed, or unless otherwise directed;
  • More information can be found here.

Supreme Court of British Columbia:

  • The Supreme Court has made accommodations in relation to commissioning of Affidavits link;
  • On March 19, 2020, Chief Justice Hinkson suspended all regular operations of the Supreme Court at all of its locations;
  • All civil and family law matters scheduled between March 19, 2020 – May 1, 2020 are adjourned unless directed otherwise by the Court. This includes all trials, conferences, chambers applications or other hearings currently scheduled before May 1, 2020;
  • With respect to hearings scheduled after May 1, 2020, parties are advised to await further direction from the Court;
  • The Supreme Court will only hear the following essential and urgent civil matters:
    • Orders related to public health and safety;
    • Orders wherein there is prima facie urgency;
    • Civil restraining orders;
    • Preservation orders;
    • Urgent injunction orders; and
    • Urgent orders in the nature of habeus corpus, certiorari, mandamus and prohibition.
  • The Supreme Court has implemented a two-part procedure to facilitate hearing of urgent matters. More information can be found under Part V here;
  • Effective March 18, 2020, filing deadlines under the Supreme Court Civil Rules are suspended until May 1, 2020;
  • Other statutory and limitation periods continue to apply. When the Supreme Court resumes regular operations, parties may request an extension of time for deadlines set out in other statutes, which the Supreme Court will determine on a case-by-case basis.

Provincial Court of British Columbia (Civil – Small Claims):

  • The Supreme Court had made accommodations in relation to commissioning of Affidavits link All small claims settlement conferences and small claims trials scheduled between March 16, 2020 – May 16, 2020, will not proceed so the parties should not attend in Court;
  • All non-urgent small claims matters, including trials, scheduled to proceed between March 18, 2020 – May 16, 2020, are adjourned without the parties having to attend Court;
  • All small claims trials scheduled to continue between March 23, 2020 – May 16, 2020, are adjourned;
  • Only urgent small claims matters as determined by a Judge on the record will be heard by telephone. More information found here

Remote Litigation Alternatives:

An important issue to consider during this time is the suspension of the Supreme Court Civil Rules and filing deadlines contained therein. All other statutory limitation periods will continue to apply in British Columbia, notwithstanding the suspension of the Supreme Court Civil Rules until May 1, 2020. Depending on the nature of a claim and the stage of litigation a matter has reached, this disruption may have serious implications. Fortunately, documents can still be filed in all levels of Court in British Columbia via electronic filing through the BCOnLine government registry system.

However, in light of the above noted service disruptions, alternatives to normal litigation practice should be contemplated and utilized where possible. All levels of Court in British Columbia have implemented a new procedure to accommodate affiants that may not be able to attend in person with a commissioner. Further, alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediations could proceed by way of telephone or video conference. This method of in-person meeting via video conference can also be applied to facilitate a Discovery.

Additionally, McLennan Ross LLP is well-equipped to assist with remote arbitration services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Jim Lebo, Q.C., FCIArb and Peter Major, Q.C. are both certified arbitrators, and they are offering remote arbitration services at this time. For more information regarding their services, please contact them directly at jlebo@mross.com or pmajor@mross.com for further information.

McLennan Ross will continue to monitor the developments in British Columbia as a result the COVID-19 pandemic and provide updates as they become available.

For information regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the court system and litigation proceedings in Alberta click here and for the Northwest Territories & Nunavut click here.

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