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COVID-19 | The resumption of judicial activities

June 23rd, 2020

As you know, a few months ago, the Minister of Justice announced a new serie of security measures for all courthouses in Quebec, as well as for all premises made available to judicial and administrative tribunals (such as the* Régie du logement*).

These measures resulted in a significant reduction in the services offered in courthouses. The courts no longer sat, and only cases deemed "urgent" were to be heard by the various judicial authorities until further notice. Trials that had been scheduled for March, May and June 2020 were postponed to a later date.

However, in order to preserve the rights of litigants, several limitation and civil procedure periods (such as the legal time limits for initiating a civil suit or filing a civil suit) have also been suspended until the state of health emergency is lifted.

Good news is that since June 1, 2020, activities have gradually resumed in Quebec courthouses, and it has been announced by the Department of Justice that the courts will resume processing all cases as of that date, whether they are urgent or not. In fact, courthouses and administrative tribunals have recently been fitted out to comply with public health directives: plexiglass panels, distance indicators, one-way corridors, limit on the number of people who can use an elevator at the same time, etc.

Thus, not only is it now possible to be heard by the courts for interventions deemed "non-urgent", it is now once again possible to have proceedings issued at the registry and produced on the court file, whether or not they are urgent.

The courts have also begun to set new trial dates for cases that have been postponed due to the pandemic. In the Court of Quebec, we were able to set one and two-day cases in October and November 2020; in the Superior Court, a four-day case that was to be heard in April 2020 was set for May 2021 - a much earlier date than what was feared at the beginning of the pandemic.

Keep in mind, however, that this is a gradual resumption of services and that court registries are operating with reduced staff. It is therefore to be expected that there will be an impact on the usual delays. In this regard, litigants would be well advised to consider the alternative means of dispute resolution available to them, whether mediation or arbitration, which have the advantage of not experiencing the same delays and slowdowns as those experienced by the judicial system.

Moreover, several measures initially enacted remain in place to continue to counter the spread of the coronavirus and to ensure the protection of the general public as well as those working in the courthouses.

Among other things, despite the reopening of the courts, the suspension of limitation periods and civil procedure continues to apply to allow for a transition to normality. Additional information on this subject should be forthcoming in the coming weeks.

In addition, all hearings before any court continue to be held in virtually, i.e. without the presence of the public in the courtrooms.

Similarly, courthouses and places placed at the disposal of judicial and administrative tribunals remain accessible only to persons whose presence is necessary for the conduct of proceedings, that is, the parties themselves, witnesses and any other persons whose presence is deemed essential by the judge. Finally, it appears that the containment measures that have been in force for several weeks will lead to significant technological progress for the judicial system. On May 26, 2020, a hearing in family matters was successfully held entirely virtually in front of the Superior Court. Since then, several common law courts and administrative tribunals have begun their digital shift and both in-person and virtual hearings will be held in the future. On June 15, 2020, after years spent decrying the famous "paper sheds" of courthouses, the Minister of Justice announced the launch of the Greffe numérique judiciaire du Québec, which will now allow litigants and professionals to file certain pleadings digitally (online) in cases under the Court of Québec and the Superior Court.

These are important advances that could eventually facilitate the holding of hearings and possibly help relieve congestion in the courts, in addition to making the administration of justice more efficient and better adapted to modern technological means.

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