Jury Trials Postponed Until at least September
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has postponed jury trials in Ontario until at least September. Both criminal and civil jury trials have been suspended at the court due to the pandemic from March 17th, 2020, and tentatively until September.
Since March 17th, 2020, the court has used technology to conduct urgent non-trial matters. This includes bail, remand, plea courts for accused people in custody, as well as plea court for urgent cases that involve accused people not in custody.
Earlier this week, Chief Justice Geoffery Morawetz stated that “Given the ongoing public health situation, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice will not re-commence criminal or civil jury selection or jury trials until September 2020 at the earliest.”
All dates for criminal matters that are currently scheduled for trial or for any other reason in June will remain in place until further direction is issued.
Civil jury matters that were to have been heard during this suspension of regular operations, will be rescheduled as determined by each region of the court.
Some legal experts have raised concerns that the temporary suspension of most court operations could have significant long-term consequences. However, on the other hand many lawyers have applauded the court’s move to extend the suspension of trials involving juries. Tony Loparco, the President of the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association (“OCAA”) said in an email statement, “The members of the OCAA are always concerned about justice being done in a timely manner…however, the reality of this pandemic is that peoples’ lives are at risk if the courts re-commence hearings too quickly. The health and safety of all justice participants including the accused, witnesses and those working within the system, has to take priority at this time.”
John Struthers, a Toronto defence lawyer and President of the Criminal Lawyers Association, agrees with the court’s call and stated in an email “The jury room is not a suitable environment in the current pandemic.”
Sid Freeman, a Toronto defence lawyer, wrote “The right to a trial without delay is an important one, the main priority… has to be the life and well-being of all the justice systems participants, including those persons charged with criminal offences.”
The court will monitor the public health situation with further direction expected by early May.