As I noted in my previous blog on COVID-19, the civil courts (including the estates list) have suspended regular operations. Now that government has made an order under sections 7.01 and 7.1 of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act to suspend limitation periods and other statutory deadlines as at March 16, 2020.
Under the order, any limitation period statute, regulation, rule, by-law or government order is suspended for the duration of the current state of emergency. Likewise, any procedural deadline established by statute, regulation, rule, by-law or government order is also suspended during this period (subject to the discretion of the judge or other decision-maker).
It is noteworthy that deadlines provided for by court order or agreement between the parties are not impacted by this order. As a practical matter, one can hope that the court and the parties to litigation will be reasonable during this time with respect to deadlines that cannot be met.
However, while meeting some deadlines or steps in litigation may not be viable in the current climate, other matters can be addressed with flexibility and creativity. I appeared last week on a motion at the Court of Appeal that was argued with the parties participating via CourtCall. If even court appearances can be smoothly dealt with remotely, parties should be able to deal with other steps remotely without involving the court. While lawyers have been declared an essential service, to the extent work can be done from home, it should be.
Many are having success with Zoom, a videoconferencing program, in conducting mediation with multiple parties. Some even believe that Zoom mediation are superior to the “real thing” as the mediator can move seamlessly from virtual room to virtual room, or easily speak with only counsel. Preparing minutes of settlement can also be easier as the parties have ready access to a computer and their internal precedents.
Zoom videoconferencing presents its own challenges, of course, in maintaining professionalism. The New York Times has some helpful tips on how to manage this, including having a neutral background, not sitting under a light source and being in a carpeted room. Pets and children, for those who have them, also may be an issue: I certainly needed to keep my cats away while participating on a video conference.
Stay safe in these trying times! As a profession, we will get through this!