Covid-19 has affected everyone around the globe in many ways since its arrival. As a result of technology, some business have been fortunate enough to find ways for employees to work remotely from their homes, while others have not been able to transition as easily, or have chosen not to adapt to a new reality. As a lawyer, it has become apparent that our court system, which is steeped in tradition, may have to consider giving up some of it’s treasured practices or risk losing the fundamental asset of our judicial system – access to justice.
In recent years, and probably longer, it has never been particularly easy or quick to get a trial date in a civil litigation matter. We often schedule trials as soon as possible because when we request dates they are typically years down the road from the date we request them. And sadly, as a result of Covid-19 and the court closures, hearings and trials are being postponed which will no doubt have a significant trickle down affect on other matters which will mean longer delays before litigants can get in front of a judge to have their matter resolved. As a litigator, not having access to appear before the court also means that the threat of taking legal action to protect our clients’ interests have significantly less impact.
For example, a defendant who was ordered by the court to provide document disclosure by a certain date chooses not to comply. As a result of the court closures, there is no ability to penalize that defendant as these matters are not considered emergencies, and while that is understandable, what will happen to the enormous backlog of applications, hearings, trials, etc. once the court reopens? How will they handle such a backlog when they were already having difficulty dealing with capacity?
It is not an easy problem to solve. Simply stating that the courts should adapt by incorporating virtual hearings is not a practical fix for a myriad of reasons, but in 2020 it may be time to for the judicial system to start thinking of ways to have quicker and easier access to justice even if that means losing some of their traditions.
Outside of the courtroom, lawyers have been busy finding new ways to protect their clients’ legal interests and move matters along and fortunately, the use of virtual platforms for discoveries and mediations has been reasonably smooth transition, at least in my experience. And the Law Society has implemented certain exceptions to swearing affidavits in person and instead allowing a virtual commissioning of legal documents.
As some of the Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, the courts are also starting to implement a plan to get back to some form of new normal, albeit with more appearances via telephone and video. It also means that the suspension of legal time limitations for commencing a court action in the BC courts will soon be lifted and it will be very important to fully understand how a potential limitation date will be affected.
With so many falling on the losing side of the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that Covid-19 has prompted some positive changes in the how the judicial system operates with the hope that it increases our access to justice going forward.The information provided above is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer or address specific situations. Your personal situation should be discussed with a lawyer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact a legal professional.