Zoom Hearings in BC and Ontario

Zoom Hearings are underway at the British Columbia Court of Appeal. Today’s update on the justice system pivoting in the face of COVID-19’s “new normal” also includes a live-stream from Ontario Superior Court of Justice, and Ontario’s Divisional Court and Toronto Commercial and Estate List hearing cases via Zoom.

The B.C. Court of Appeal goes Zoom

Zoom hearings are happening!

Starting today, the B.C. Court of Appeal will hear all appeals, including those that are not urgent, by videoconference using the Zoom platform, unless otherwise directed. Parties will not be permitted to adjourn appeals on the sole basis that they would prefer not to proceed by videoconference. Chambers applications and registrar’s appointments will also proceed by teleconference, and e-filing is mandatory for civil appeals.

“Until a permanent, enterprise videoconferencing solution is provided to the Court by government, hearings will proceed using Zoom…”

Notice to the Public Regarding the Court of Appeal for British Columbia’s Response to COVID-19 Dated 20 April 2020

The B.C.C.A. refined the Zoom Hearing procedures during the week of April 27 – May 1, for example hearing R. v. James (YU863) with Chief Justice Bauman presiding from his Vancouver office (also known as “chambers”), Bennett J.A. from Vancouver chambers and Charlesworth J.A. from Iqaluit chambers, while the court clerk sat alone in the courtroom and the lawyers appeared from remote locations.

In its notices on April 29, the Court provided detailed information about its Zoom Hearing process, including etiquette and decorum. The Court’s Notice to the Public Regarding Videoconference Proceedings in the Court of Appeal Dated 29 April 2020 contains a Guide for Appearing in the Court of Appeal by Zoom Video Conference” which includes some thoughtful, forward-thinking management for what to do if you face technological issues during a hearing.

The first hearing is scheduled for May 5, 2020. Recognizing people want to see the new virtual process in action, the Court plans to post a recording of a Zoom Hearing during this week, for people to view.

B.C. Court of Appeal to discuss its Zoom Experience

On May 8, 2020, Chief Justice Bauman and the Registrar plan a live webinar through the CBA to discuss the “new normal” and lessons learned during the first week of video-conference appeal hearings. The webinar is already full, but the Court will post a recording of the webinar on its announcements page shortly after it concludes.

Live-Streaming from Ontario’s Superior Court

For two days last week, the Superior Court of Justice live-streamed the proceedings in Saugeen Ojibway Nation v. AG Canada et al (ONSC Court File Nos. 94-CQ-50872CM and 03-CV-261134CM1)  The Saugeen Ojibway Nation Case has been running as an E-Trial since mid-May 2020.

The Superior Court’s live-stream came after over 150 people attended a live-streamed proceeding from Ontario’s Divisional Court on April 17, 2020.

Viewers were instructed not to make any recording or photograph of the live proceedings being heard before the Courts per the Section 136 of the Courts of Justice Act.

Ontario’s Courts are Zooming

On April 22, 2020, an updated Notice to Profession confirmed that the hearings at the Divisional Court will all be conducted electronically, either by teleconference or by videoconference, and videoconferences will be conducted using Zoom. The direction applies to all Divisional Court matters in Ontario, including panel matters and matters ordinarily heard by single judges in Regions outside Toronto.

Toronto Commercial and Estate List judges also expanded the matters they will hear and advise that all contested matters will be heard using Zoom or “…another videoconference facility.”

The Supreme Court of Canada announces videoconference plans

On April 29, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada announced four cases the judges will hear by videoconference in June, beginning on June 9 with Owners, Strata Plan LMS 3905 v. Crystal Square Parking Corporation. The Lawyer’s Daily reports that the media and public will be able to view the hearings.

Why this matters:

The B.C. Court of Appeal’s approach to shifting to Zoom Hearings is remarkable for the amount of attention it is paying to the public and to the Court’s users. The Court has put some thought into how to make this change happen: notifying the public on April 20 of its plan to use Zoom, taking the intervening time to work through the details of how Zoom Hearings will work and then sharing what it has learned in further notices to the public, particularly with the “Guide for Appearing in the Court of Appeal by Zoom Video Conference”. The Court has also anticipated people’s interest and responded by planning to post a Zoom Hearing online and offering a free webinar at the end of the first week. Finally, when the Court announced its plan to use Zoom, it noted that Courts in other provinces had had success with the platform.

All of this is a great example of how the provinces may be able to learn from each other as they lean into the virtual environment.