Update on Operational Changes Impacting Alberta Courts

By McLennan Ross Litigation Team

This article was updated March 31, 2020

Updates as of March 31st:

  • All Courthouses in Alberta have implemented new access restrictions in relation to the current COVID – 19 situation. Effective March 30, 2020, access to all courthouses in the province of Alberta will be restricted until further notice.
    Members of the general public will only be permitted access to the courthouse in certain situations. More information can be found here.
  • Lawyers are urged to make use of the expanded access to email and fax filing alternatives to attendance in person to file documents. More information can be found here.
  • Effective immediately, the Alberta Court of King’s Bench will allow counsel to submit signed Master and Justice Consent Orders to be processed through email. The Consent Order can be emailed to the appropriate court location and must have the following naming convention:
    • Example:  “CIVIL CONSENT ORDER – 2013-123445 – Edmonton”. More information can be found here.

All levels of Court in Alberta have implemented specific procedures to deal with the service disruptions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is intended to provide you the necessary information to both understand and navigate these changes.

Alberta Court of Appeal

On March 23, 2020, the Court of Appeal announced that, effective immediately, any appeals, applications and motions will continue to be heard, but not in person. There are separate procedures that will be followed depending on the size of the panel scheduled for the hearing. The following applies to appeals and applications to be heard by a three judge panel:

  • Unless otherwise directed by a case management officer or a judge, all appeals and applications before a Three Judge Panel will be heard electronically (by video conference or audio telephone); and
  • Personal attendance in court will not be permitted without prior written authorization from a case management officer or a judge.

With respect to matters set down before a single duty judge of the Court of Appeal:

  • Unless otherwise directed by a case management officer or a judge, all duty matters set down before a single judge will be heard by audio conference; and
  • Personal attendance in chambers will not be permitted without prior written authorization from a case management officer or a judge.

Effective March 25, 2020, unless otherwise directed by a case management officer or judge, where an appeal (fast track, standard or criminal appeal) has not yet been set for hearing, and the deadline to: order or commence preparation of the appeal record and transcripts; or file an appeal records, transcripts, factums, extracts of key evidence and books of authorities, falls on or prior to May 4, 2020, the deadline is extended by two months.  Otherwise, all time limits remain in effect and must be respected.

Where an appeal has been set for hearing and has not been adjourned, the deadlines to order or commence preparation of the appeal record and transcripts, or for the filing of appeal records, transcripts, factums, extracts of key evidence and books of authorities also remain in effect and must be respected. Aside from this, filing deadlines for commencement documents and applications still apply. Where possible, however, counsel and parties are encouraged to file their documents by email or fax and those that do will be temporarily exempted from the filing of paper copies. Paper copies must be provided at a later time as required by the Court. A filed copy of the document will be returned via email or fax;

For more information pertaining to the Court of Appeal’s recent changes, click here.

Alberta Court of King’s Bench 

On March 16, 2020, following recommendations from Alberta Health Services, Alberta Courts announced that the Court of King's Bench, the Provincial Court and the Court of Appeal would be limiting all regular operations until further notice. Legal counsel have, however, been permitted access to the Court house for urgent court-related business. This announcement was then followed up by an Order pronounced March 20, 2020 by Chief Justice Moreau (“Master Order #2”) of the Alberta Court of King’s Bench directing the following with respect to civil matters in that court:

  1. All matters scheduled for hearing between March 16, 2020 and May 1, 2020 are adjourned sine die, unless otherwise directed by the Court. 
  2. All Court of King's Bench of Alberta Orders received via email or fax have the same force and effect as if they contain an original signature.
  3. All filing deadlines under the Alberta Rules of Court, including Rule 13.41(4) are suspended until May 1, 2020, with the exception of those Rules applicable to the commencement of proceedings, including originating applications (most importantly, this means limitation periods remain effect).
  4. Parties and/or Counsel who believe that their matter is an emergency or urgent are directed not to attend at the courthouse, but to arrange for the scheduling of a hearing by contacting the Court by email at EmergencyHearings.QBEdmonton@albertacourts.ca

This Order remains in full force and effect until further Order of the Court.

The courthouses continue to accept applications for filing at this time, though this is subject to change as the situation evolves. As of March 24, 2020, the Court of King’s Bench is making available to Alberta lawyers an enhanced e-filing system for court documents in all King’s Bench judicial centres. This gives parties the opportunity to continue to move matters forward by preparing and filing application materials to avoid unnecessary delay when the Court eventually resumes regular operations. As of March 25, 2020, by Notice to the Profession, accommodations have also been made permitting affidavit in civil and family matters to be sworn by videoconference if necessary.

It remains uncertain at this time how the Court will be dealing with the backlog of matters that have been adjourned once restrictions are lifted, but McLennan Ross remains committed to closely following these matters as they progress. We invite you to check back on our website often as we continue to provide further updates as they arise, as well as recommendations for navigating these changes as the situation moves forward.

More information can be found here.

Provincial Court

On March 23, 2020, the Provincial Court announced that, as of March 17, 2020, if a party has a scheduled court appearance in family, civil, criminal or traffic court they do not have to attend unless the matter is an in-custody or urgent criminal or family/child protection matter. The Provincial Court has directed that no members of the public will be permitted in courthouses unless they are required for a court matter (parties, witnesses, media). Legal counsel are permitted access to the Court house for urgent court-related business only.

The Provincial Court urges the public to avoid attendance at a courthouse in person if they have been advised to self-isolate by public health officials, their doctor or the Alberta Health Services website; or if they are self-isolating as a result of travel or contact with individuals with COVID-19.

With respect to civil matters, the Court made specific changes to the normal processes in light of COVID-19. All Provincial Court civil matters, including trials, chambers list applications and pretrial conferences that are scheduled to be heard prior to May 22, 2020 are adjourned sine die. This applies to those matters that are currently set to be heard by phone.

Provincial Court matters which are presently scheduled to be heard after May 22, 2020 are not impacted for the time being. However, parties with a matter scheduled after May 22, 2020, should monitor the situation and stay up-to-date on changes to scheduled dates. 

Effective March 23, 2020, the Provincial Court will only be filing urgent/time sensitive documents including:

  • Civil Claims where the limitation period/date is about to expire;
  • Applications and Affidavits for extending time for service of a Civil Claim that will soon expire;
  • Dispute Notes and other time sensitive pleadings;
  • Notices of Appeal;
  • Applications that are of an emergent nature (such as setting aside a judgment where collection proceedings have commenced, or Landlord/Tenant matters where safety is an issue);
  • The Provincial Court will determine if the Application will be filed, and if and when the hearing will be set;
  • If a party feels their matter is urgent they may contact the clerks' office for a referral to a judge to determine the urgency.

More information can be found here.

Lawyer Referral Service

In light of the restrictions on Court operations in Alberta, the Lawyer Referral Service is currently suspended. The Law Society of Alberta’s customer service team will assume operation of the Lawyer Referral Service effective March 31, 2020, not only by responding to telephone inquiries, but by implementing new email and online chat options in the hopes of improving both the speed and availability of service for Albertans.

Alberta Land Titles

In addition to changes within the Courts, the Land Titles Offices in Calgary and Edmonton have closed in-person counter services. The remainder of their business operations continue to operate as usual, as do services such as SPIN2/ALTO. More information can be found by clicking here.

Remote Litigation Alternatives Available

As a result of the limitations on court operations in the province, alternatives to regular litigation activities ought to be considered and discussed where appropriate. This includes making use of E-Questioning, which some court reporters offer, that allows parties to conduct remote Questioning from the safety of their home or office location.

Further, as it becomes more and more apparent that there will be difficulties in having matters progress through the Court, this will be a good time to consider alternatives such as arbitration in lieu of commencing court actions or having the Court decide specific issues. McLennan Ross partners Jim Lebo, Q.C., FCIArb and  Peter Major, Q.C. are both certified arbitrators with a wealth of experience and are well-equipped to assist with remote arbitration services during this time. For more information regarding their services, please contact them directly at  jlebo@mross.com or pmajor@mross.com.

Lastly, in order to curb the necessity for in-person meetings to swear affidavits or other sworn documents, the Law Society of Alberta has advised that it is asking the Chief Justice to review and determine options to navigate this issue. While no direction has yet been given, McLennan Ross will continue to monitor this situation for updates and would be happy to discuss the options for alternatives with our clients who need to complete sworn documents once these alternatives are known.  

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