Canadian Underwriter

How pandemic is affecting Ontario lawsuits

March 13, 2020   by Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio THE CANADIAN PRESS

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TORONTO  – Lawyers, witnesses and those accused of crimes are being told not to attend Ontario courts if they have been advised by medical authorities to self-isolate due to the novel coronavirus.

The Superior Court of Justice for Ontario has issued more detailed instructions aimed at reducing risks related to COVID-19 in the province’s justice system.

It says anyone participating in a civil, criminal or family court proceeding should alert the relevant authority if they have been advised to stay home due to the virus.

The court says some matters can be carried out remotely or through a lawyer.

The additional notice comes less than a day after the Superior Court announced it has suspended jury selection for all upcoming trials, meaning no new jury trials will begin for the time being.

It said, however, that trials already underway could continue, subject to the judge’s discretion.

“The safety of all who use and rely upon the court is essential. Equally important is continued access to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice should COVID-19 disrupt court operations,” the court said in a statement Friday.

“The court is working with the Ministry of the Attorney General on contingency planning in the event court operations are disrupted.”

It was not immediately clear how many trials would be affected.

A high-profile murder trial in Toronto will continue amid the new measures, the presiding judge told jurors Friday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Dambrot said the trial of Kalen Schlatter, who is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 22-year-old Tess Richey, will go ahead as planned.

“We will be completing this trial, hopefully as quickly as possible,” he said.

The last witness in the trial was slated to be heard Friday, with closing arguments expected sometime next week.

Dambrot said the purpose of halting jury selection is to not have large crowds of potential jurors in a courthouse, noting that is not the situation jurors in the Schlatter trial are facing.

The judge also said several courtrooms will likely be freed up as a result of the court’s decision to halt jury selection, and he will see if one can be secured for deliberations in the Schlatter trial.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of the Attorney General said the department continues to monitor the evolving situation and is working with the courts on “preparedness planning for the justice sector.”

“This is a precautionary measure to keep the public, court users and staff safe,” Jenessa Crognali, spokeswoman for Doug Downey, said in a statement.

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