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VIRTUAL HEARINGS AND SERVICES: TOOLS AND RESOURCES FOR COURT USERS AND PERSONNEL

A Statement from the Action Committee

Our Committee exists to support Canada’s courts as they work to protect the health and safety of all court users in the COVID-19 context while upholding the fundamental values of our justice system. These mutually sustaining commitments guide all of our efforts.

CONTEXT AND SCOPE

In an effort to promote open and safe access to court hearings and services for justice participants, the media and the public in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, courts across Canada have shifted towards virtual hearings and service delivery. To facilitate this transition, courts and other justice stakeholders have implemented a series of policy and practical tools for court users and personnel, and for public and media observers.

This reference document seeks to consolidate information on these existing tools to assist courts and justice stakeholders in implementing virtual processes effectively within court operations throughout and beyond the pandemic. To achieve this, the document first describes the types of tools developed for this purpose, then lists specific resources and reference tools originating from different courts and justice stakeholders.

This document does not presuppose whether conducting virtual hearings or providing virtual services is preferable to in-person in any given situation; rather, it recognizes that, when feasible and used appropriately, virtual hearings and services can complement in-person proceedings and services to achieve better access to justice for a wider diversity of persons, including but not only in times of public emergency. Individual courts are best placed to make these determinations based on their operational and technical capacity as well as the needs of their local community.

TYPES OF TOOLS DEVELOPED ON VIRTUAL HEARINGS AND COURT SERVICES

To support court users and personnel in adapting existing court processes to evolving public health and technological realities, and in implementing virtual technology more permanently in court operations moving forward, courts and court administrators may wish to consider the following complementary tools as part of an overall strategy to promote effective access to virtual hearings and court services, as required by the circumstances.

1. COVID-19 Notices and Practice Directions

Throughout the pandemic, courts have issued notices and practice directions to inform legal professionals, the media and the public about the current status of court operations. These include information on current health and safety measures and any access restrictions in court facilities; types of proceedings that are being heard or adjourned, and any required action by counsel or self-represented parties; types of proceedings that are occurring remotely or virtually, and applicable procedures; whether hearings are open to the media and the public, and how to gain access; authorized or expected use of electronic filing of documents, and applicable procedures; and the suspension or resumption of statutory or regulatory timeframes that apply to certain types of proceedings.

To ensure the most up-to-date information is easily accessible to all court users, some best practices identified include displaying the latest notices and practice directions as an automatic pop-up or prominently on the main page of the courts’ website; disseminating new notices and practice directions to legal associations and media contacts; and consolidating notices and practice directions or clearly indicating which ones are in effect, or have been repealed or replaced.

2. Electronic resource portals

Portals housed on several court and legal association websites serve as hubs for providing overview information and links to relevant resources for legal professionals, the media and the public on new or revised court procedures in light of the pandemic. Examples include thematic portals on COVID-19, virtual courtrooms, public and media access, and e-filing.

3. User guides and practice tips for virtual hearings

With the growing use of virtual platforms to conduct hearings, user guides and practice tips have been developed for both hearing participants and public and media observers.

Common logistical tips for participants and observers include technical requirements and recommendations for the use of specific platforms (e.g. hardware and software); step-by-step procedures and screenshots to help install and connect to the platform; when and how to use functionalities such as microphones, cameras and screen sharing; frequently asked questions; troubleshooting tips; and what to do in the event of technical difficulties during a hearing.

Common practice tips for hearing participants include advance preparation and test runs; preparing litigants and witnesses; considerations related to self-represented litigants; addressing certain issues in advance with the judge or registrar; hearing etiquette and decorum; management of documents during a hearing; screen tips; and advocacy tips in virtual settings.

Common policy considerations for public and media observers focus largely on rules and methods of access to hearings, including restrictions on the use of electronic devices, recording and broadcasting of proceedings, or publication bans.

4. Policies on public and media access to virtual hearings and on the use of electronic devices in the courtroom

Policies, protocols or guidelines on public and media access to hearings and on the use of electronic devices in the courtroom that were in place before the pandemic have continued to apply to virtual hearings. In addition, many courts have now clarified methods and rules of access to virtual hearings for the public and media, in an effort to balance open access with the privacy and safety of hearing participants. Additional safeguards implemented in many jurisdictions include advance registration; personalized and password-protected links; and acknowledgments or undertakings from participants and observers not to record or broadcast proceedings.

5. Screening tools for privacy, security and confidentiality issues

Since it is more difficult for courts to monitor access and conduct of participants and observers in virtual hearings, some courts have implemented screening protocols or standardized forms to identify any privacy, security or confidentiality issues in advance. This enables courts to implement additional safeguards or make special orders as required.

6. Hearing lists

Hearing lists that were often already distributed electronically on court websites and disseminated directly to lawyers and accredited media were adapted and expanded in response to the pandemic to facilitate open access to hearings. Additional information has been included, such as the mode of hearing (e.g. in person, by phone or by video) and how to access a specific hearing (e.g., by registering in advance or through a pre-existing link).

7. E-filing systems and related practice tools

At the start of the pandemic, several courts were forced to rely on email to enable counsel and self-represented litigants to file documents remotely, which created a strain on both electronic systems and court personnel. Some courts also implemented service or mail hubs for safe drop-off of documents in person without the need to access court facilities, though court personnel still needed to process documents by hand.

Many courts have now implemented e-filing systems that allow counsel and self-represented litigants to file a variety of documents virtually and that automate various stages of processing, which enhances efficiencies and reduces processing times. E-filing platforms can vary from one jurisdiction to the next, and may include functionalities such as web filing of court forms or evidentiary documents, or document-sharing between court officials and parties. Some jurisdictions have also implemented, or are considering, electronic case management systems.

To facilitate the use of these new systems, courts have also developed e-filing resources such as portals, notices or practice guides.

8. Training sessions and practical demonstrations

To promote awareness, buy-in and effective use of new technologies such as virtual hearing platforms and e-filing systems, many courts have offered virtual training sessions, open house sessions or practical demonstrations to legal professionals and other relevant stakeholders.

9. Stakeholder consultation and collaboration

To promote an effective and inclusive shift to virtual hearings and service delivery, various courts have engaged in ongoing consultations with affected stakeholders, including legal professionals and accredited media. In some cases, this has occurred through newly created committees and working groups or ad hoc discussions, while in other cases courts were able to build upon pre-existing forums such as Bench and Bar Liaison Committees or recurring multi-stakeholder conferences to address current challenges and identify workable solutions.


ANNEX: RESOURCES AND REFERENCE TOOLS ON VIRTUAL HEARINGS AND COURT SERVICES

The external resources listed below are meant to provide a detailed overview of existing tools to assist courts across Canada in promoting virtual access to hearings and court services both during and beyond the pandemic. However, this list is not necessarily exhaustive. Resources are listed in the official language(s) in which they are available, and may change frequently as courts and other stakeholders update them in response to evolving situations and lessons learned.

COVID-19 WEBPAGES / RESOURCE PORTALS

As of September 2021

National

·         Supreme Court of Canada/ Cour suprême du Canada

·         Federal Court of Appeal/ Cour d’appel fédérale

·         Federal Court/ Cour fédérale

·         Tax Court of Canada / Cour canadienne de l’impôt

·         Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada / Cour d’appel de la cour martiale du Canada

Alberta

·         Court of Appeal

·         Court of Queen’s Bench

·         Provincial Court

British Columbia

·         Court of Appeal

·         Supreme Court Index (PDF)

·         Provincial Court

 

Manitoba

·         All levels of court/ Tous les niveaux de tribunaux

 

New Brunswick

·         Court of Appeal/ Cour d’appel

·         Court of Queen’s Bench/ Cour du Banc de la Reine

·         Provincial Court/ Cour provinciale

 

Newfoundland and Labrador

·         Court of Appeal

·         Supreme Court

·         Provincial Court

 

Nova Scotia

·         All levels of court

 

Northwest Territories

·         All levels of court/ Tous les niveaux de tribunaux

 

Nunavut

·         All levels of court/ Tous les niveaux de tribunaux

 

Ontario

·         Court of Appeal/ Cour d’appel

·         Superior Court of Justice/ Cour supérieure de justice  

·         Ontario Court of Justice/ Cour de justice de l’Ontario

 

Prince Edward Island

·         Court of Appeal

·         Supreme Court

·         Provincial Court

 

 

Quebec

·         Court of Quebec/ Cour du Québec

·         Superior Court of Quebec/ Cour supérieure du Québec

·         Court of Appeal of Quebec/ Cour d’appel du Québec

 

Saskatchewan

·         Court of Appeal

·         Court of Queen’s Bench

·         Provincial Court

 

Yukon

·         Court of Appeal

·         Superior Court

·         Territorial Court

                                                                          

Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals

·         COVID-19 Resource Repository / Répertoire des ressources sur la COVID-19

 

                                     

USER GUIDES FOR VIRTUAL PLATFORMS          

Zoom

·         Federal Court Virtual hearings – User Guide for Participants/ Guide de l’utilisateur à l’intention des participants

·         Ontario Court of Justice Zoom User Guide for Remote Hearings/ Guide d’utilisation Zoom pour les audiences virtuelles

·         Ontario – Law Society Tribunal – Zoom Hearing Guidelines / Lignes directrices pour les audiences tenues via Zoom

·         Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch) Best Practices in a Zoom Courtroom

·         Zoom how-to video tutorials

Microsoft Teams

·         Provincial Court of British Columbia – Virtual Proceedings

·         How to attend Court in Manitoba using Microsoft Teams

·         Quebec Court of Appeal – Technical Conditions/ Conditions techniques

·         Justice Québec – Hearings Conducted through Technological Means (Teams)/ Audiences par moyens technologiques (Teams)

·         Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch) – Using MS Teams in Court Proceedings

·         Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch) – Using MS Teams in Court Proceedings via Telephone

·         Microsoft Teams video training

Cisco WebEx

·         Alberta Court of Appeal – Connecting and Attending an Electronic Hearing Guide – For Counsel and Self-Represented Litigants

·         Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Remote Hearing Protocol & Troubleshooting – Instructions and Etiquette Guide

·         Webex Help Center

JVN/ WebRTC

·         Ontario Courts – Virtual Hearing Room – JVN WebRTC Manual/ Salle d’audience virtuelle du Réseau vidéo pour la justice – Manuel d’utilisation WebRTC

·         Ontario Courts JVN WebRTC Virtual Hearing Room: Trouble Shooting Tips/ WebRTC – Trucs de dépannage

 

VIRTUAL HEARING GUIDES

 

For counsel and litigants

 

National

·         Federal Court General Policy Statement re: Virtual Hearings/ Audiences électroniques

·         Federal Court – Virtual hearings – User Guide for Participants/ Audiences virtuelles à la Cour fédérale – Guide de l’utilisateur à l’intention des participants

 

Alberta

·         Court of Appeal – Connecting and Attending an Electronic Hearing Guide

·         Court of Queen’s Bench – Remote Hearing Protocol

·         Provincial Court – Conduct Guide for Remote Appearances

 

British Columbia

·         Court of Appeal – Videoconference Proceedings

·         Supreme Court – Remote Video Conference Hearings

·         Provincial Court – Virtual Proceedings

 

Manitoba

·         Court of Queen’s Bench and Provincial Court – Virtual Courts/ Les audiences virtuelles

 

Nova Scotia

·         All Levels of Court – Virtual Court

 

Ontario

·         Court of Appeal – Practice Direction Regarding Proceedings During the COVID-19 Pandemic/ Directives de pratique et Avis relatifs à la COVID-19

·         Superior Court of Justice – Guide to Virtual Hearings/ Guide pratique des audiences virtuelles

·         Ontario Court of Justice Remote Hearings Guides/ Guides sur les audiences à distance

 

Quebec

·         Court of Appeal – Virtual Courtrooms/ Salles pour les audiences virtuelles

·         Justice Québec – Courtroom hearings held in virtual rooms/ Audiences tenues en salles virtuelles

 

 

For the public and media

 

 

National

·         Federal Court of Appeal – Public and media access to hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic/ L’accès des membres du public et des médias aux audiences durant la pandémie de COVID-19

·         Federal Court Virtual hearings – User Guide for the Public and Media/ Audiences virtuelles à la Cour fédérale – Guide de l’utilisateur à l’intention du public et des médias

Alberta

·         Court of Appeal Guide for viewing electronic hearings for public and media

British Columbia

·         Supreme Court – Notice to Media and the Public Regarding Access to Court Proceedings

·         Provincial Court – Media Access to Court Proceedings During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Manitoba

·         All courts – Public Viewing/ Attendance at Virtual Hearings

Nova Scotia

·         All courts – Media Access to the Courts during the Pandemic

Ontario

·         Superior Court of Justice – Public and Media Access to SCJ Virtual Hearings/ Accès du public et des médias aux audiences virtuelles de la CSJ

·         Ontario Court of Justice – Public and Media Access to Court Proceedings/ Acces aux instances judiciaires pour les médias et le public

Prince Edward Island

·         All courts – Access to the Court Proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yukon

·         All courts – Notice to Media

REFERENCE AND PRACTICE TOOLS

Best Practices for Virtual Hearings

 

·         Federal Court of Appeal Best Practices: Zoom Virtual Hearings/ Pratiques exemplaires: auditions virtuelles sur Zoom

·         Federal Court Practice Tips for Remote Hearings/ Conseils pratiques pour les audiences virtuelles

·         Federal Court: PowerPoint – Introduction to Zoom Best Practices/ Introduction aux meilleures pratiques sur Zoom

·         Ontario Superior Court of Justice – Best Practices and Etiquette for Remote Hearings/ Étiquette et pratiques exemplaires pour les audiences à distance

·         Ontario E-Hearings Task Force – Best Practices for Remote Hearings (2nd edition)/ Pratiques exemplaires pour les audiences tenues à distance

·         Canadian Bar Association (British Columbia Branch) – Best Practices in Virtual Hearings

·         Council of Canadian Administrative Tribunals COVID-19 Resource Repository / Répertoire des ressources sur la COVID-19 – see Guidelines/Best Practices and International Best Practices/Resources

·         Social Security Tribunal – Best Practices for Remote Hearings

United States

·         American Bar Association – Advocacy Through the Computer Screen: Best Practices for Remote Advocacy

·         American College of Trial Lawyers 

o   Remote Proceeding Advocacy

o   Interim Guidelines – Conducting Remote Hearings by Use of Remote Video

o   Interim Guidelines on Conducting Non Jury Trials by Use of Remote Video

o   Guidelines on Conducting Appellate Arguments by Use of Remote Video

o   Guidelines on Conducting Remote Video Depositions and Examinations for Discovery

o   Mastering Zoom Advocacy – Interim Guidelines

·         National Centre for State Courts

o   Joint Technology Committee Managing Evidence for Virtual Hearings

o    Civil Justice Improvements Committee – Remote Conferencing – Findings and Recommendations

·         National Institute for Trial Advocacy – Best Practices for Remote Hearings (podcast)

·         Southeast Louisiana Legal Services – Tips for Videoconferenced Court Hearings

United Kingdom Judiciary of England and Wales

·         Civil Justice in England and Wales: Protocol Regarding Remote Hearings

·         Remote Hearings in the Family Justice Systems: Reflections and Experiences

Hearing lists

 

National

·         Supreme Court of Canada – Scheduled Hearings/ Audiences prévues

·         Federal Court – Calendar of Hearings/ Calendrier des audiences

Alberta – Court of Appeal – Current Hearings List

British Columbia

·         Court of Appeal  – Hearing List

·         Supreme Court – Hearing List

·         Provincial Court – Hearing List

 

Manitoba

·         Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench – Hearing List

·         Provincial Court – Courtroom Assignment Lists

New Brunswick Court of Appeal – List of Cases/ Le rôle pour la session

Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Court – Docket List

Nova Scotia - All courts – Docket List

Northwest Territories - All courts – Docket List

Ontario - All courts – Court Lists (Dockets)/ Les rôles d’audience

Prince Edward Island - Court of Appeal Schedule

Quebec - All courts – Docket List/ Extraits des rôles d’audience

Saskatchewan - Court of Appeal – Court Schedule

Yukon - Supreme Court Dockets

E-filing systems and practice tools

 

National

·         Supreme Court of Canada – Guidelines for Preparing Documents/ Lignes directrices pour la préparation des documents a déposer a la Cour suprême du Canada

·         Federal Court of Appeal – Requirements and Recommendations for Filing Electronic Documents / Exigences et recommandations visant les documents déposés par voie électronique a la Cour d’appel fédérale

·         Federal Court

o    E-Filing Portal/ Dépôt électronique – includes a link to the Electronic Filing System/ Système de dépôt électronique de la Cour fédérale

o    E-Filing Resources/ Ressources – dépôt électronique

 

·         Tax Court of Canada

o    Online filing – Notice of Appeal/Application to Extend Time / Avis d’appel / Demande de prolongation du délai / Other documents / Autres documents

 

Alberta

·         Court of Appeal – Notice – Mandatory Electronic Filing

·         Court of Appeal – Practice Direction – Electronic Filing

·         Court of Queen’s Bench – Guidelines for Documents Filed by Email or Digital Upload

 

British Columbia

·         Court of Appeal – Notice Regarding Modified Filing Directions in Civil and Criminal Appeals

·         BCEID information

 

Ontario

·         Court of Appeal – Guidelines for Filing Electronic Documents/ Lignes directrices sur le dépôt de documents électroniques a la Cour d’appel de l’Ontario

·         Superior Court of Justice – File civil case documents online/ Dépôt en ligne de documents lies a une instance civile

 

Saskatchewan

·         Court of Appeal – eFiling

 

Quebec

·         Court of Appeal – Digital Office/ Le greffe numérique

·         Superior Court and Court of Quebec – Digital Office/ Le greffe numérique

Policies on public and media access/ use of electronic devices in court

 

National

·         Supreme Court of Canada – Terms and Conditions – see Webcasts – restrictions/ Avis concernant l’accessibilité

·         Federal Court of Appeal – Guidelines on Public and Media/ Lignes directrices sur l’accès du public et des médias

·         Federal Court – Policy on Public and Media Access/ Lignes directrices sur l’accès du public et des médias

Alberta

·         Court of Appeal – Policy on the Use of Electronic Devices in Courtrooms

·         Court of Queen’s Bench – Public and Media Access

British Columbia

·         Court of Appeal – Policy on Use of Electronic Devices in Courtrooms

·         Court of Appeal Media

·         Supreme Court – Media Access

·         Provincial Court – Media

 

Manitoba

·         All courts – Information for Media/ Renseignements pour les médias

Newfoundland and Labrador

·         Supreme Court – A Guide to Accessing Court Proceedings and Records for the Public and Media

Nova Scotia

·         All courts – Guidelines re: Media and Public Access

Northwest Territories

·         Supreme Court – Policy on the Use of Electronic Devices in the Courtroom

Ontario

·         Superior Court of Justice Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction/ Directive de pratique provinciale consolidée  – see/voir section D

·         Ontario Court of Justice – Protocol Regarding the Use of Electronic Communication Devices in Court Proceedings/ Protocole sur l’utilisation de dispositifs de communication électroniques dans la salle d’audience

Quebec

·         Court of Appeal – Guidelines Concerning the Use of Technological Devices in Courtrooms / Lignes directrices concernant l’utilisation des technologies en salle d’audience

Publication Bans

·         Supreme Court of Canada – Publication Bans and Other Limitations of Access/ Ordonnances de non-publication et autres restrictions

·         Supreme Court of British Columbia – Publication Bans

·         Ontario Superior Court of Justice Consolidated Provincial Practice Direction/ Directive de pratique provinciale consolidée – see/voir Section F

·         Saskatchewan Courts – Discretionary Publication Ban Application (e-Form)

Access to audio or digital recordings of court proceedings

 

·         Supreme Court of Canada – Access to Court Documents, Photographs and Recordings/ Consultation de documents, des photographies et des enregistrements de la Cour

·         Federal Court – Pilot Project for Access to Digital Audio Recordings/ Avis à la communauté juridique

·         Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada Access to Digital Audio Recordings of Proceedings / Accès aux enregistrements audionumériques des audiences

·         Provincial Court of Alberta – Policy for Access to Court Audio Recordings

·         Ontario Court of Justice – Policy Regarding Access to Digital Audio Recordings/ Politique sur l’accès aux enregistrements sonores numériques