MANITOULIN – Trials and preliminary hearings in the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ) will resume July 6 in a limited number of courthouses and courtrooms, according to a June 17 COVID-19 update. The Ministry of the Attorney General, which is responsible for courts administration and courthouse facilities, has established an incremental plan to prepare courthouses to facilitate the return to full court operations across Ontario.
Phase one of the reopening plan includes 93 OCJ courtrooms, pending adequate health and safety measures are in place. The targeted date for full reopening is November 1, 2020. Trials and preliminary hearings will resume July 6 at Sudbury, Sault Ste Marie and North Bay courthouses in the Northeast region.
All trials and preliminary inquiries involving accused persons who are in custody or out of custody will proceed as scheduled. According to the update, all participants, including the accused person(s), counsel and witness(es) will attend in person, unless a judge has directed otherwise.
The number of people who can attend inside the courtroom or courthouse during the phase one reopening will remain restricted in accordance with health and safety guidelines.
A special COVID-19 trial readiness court (TRC) has been established to “identify and discuss any issues that may affect the scheduling or conduct of the hearing,” such as an inability to attend court due to health concerns or whether any part of the hearing will be conducted using remote technology. Cases will appear in TRC the Monday prior to the week of the scheduled trial or preliminary inquiry.
Bail hearings, guilty pleas and set date appearances will continue to be remotely conducted by audioconference or videoconference.
Attendance in courtrooms for criminal matters other than trials and preliminary inquiries will continue to be restricted to the judicial office and essential court staff.
Both the OCJ and the Superior Court of Justice have been closed to in-person hearings since March 16 because of COVID-19.