The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected the affairs of many individuals and organizations, including the BC Courts at both the Supreme Court and Provincial Court levels. With many courts across British Columbia having been closed or services halted, it is important to note that efforts are being made by the courts to continue providing justice where it is necessary. This blog post, updated on a regular basis, serves to provide a list of the summary of accommodations that the Supreme Courts and Provincial Courts are making in family law matters, which is bound to impact family law professionals and self-represented individuals.
Suspension of All Regular Court Operations – Family and Civil Matters
Effective March 19, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia ordered:
- Suspension of all regular operations, except hearing of urgent matters (see Urgent Matters below), effective immediately and until further notice; and
- All regular hearings scheduled from March 19, 2020 to May 1, 2020 were adjourned, unless otherwise directed by the Court.
Pursuant to the March 20, 2020 notice, the Court will provide further directions with respect to hearings scheduled after May 1, 2020.
Although courthouses are now open, in-person registry services have been suspended until further notice and attendance at the court is strongly discouraged unless personal attendance is absolutely necessary.
Despite the court closure and suspension of all regular court operations, the Court has discretion to hear urgent matters and has provided a list of family matters that are presumptively considered to be of an urgent nature. These include orders relating to the:
- Safety of a parent or a child due to a risk of violence or immediate harm (e.g., a protection order, conduct orders, or exclusive possession of the home);
- Risk of removal of a child from the jurisdiction (e.g., relocation, non-removal, wrongful removal or retention of a child); and
- Well-being of a child (e.g.,essential medical decisions, urgent issues relating to parenting time, contact or communication with a child that cannot reasonably be delayed).
Take note that just because your matter is listed as urgent does not automatically qualify for a hearing as the Court has discretion to decline to hear a matter listed. The Court also has discretion to hear urgent matters other than those listed above.
Procedure on Urgent Matters
If you are of the opinion that your matter is of an urgent nature, you must follow the following two-part procedure to determine if your request for urgent hearing is approved:
- Submit a request to the Court for an urgent hearing using this form. The Court will then send the parties an acknowledgement of receipt of the form and provide instructions for submission of the unfiled materials to enable the court to assess the urgency of the matter. See Preparing Affidavits below, for preparing Affidavits for use in urgent family proceedings using video technology.
- If the Court determines that the matter is urgent and that a hearing is required, the Court will then set a hearing date and provide directions about filing and serving materials. In terms of the method of appearance, the parties will be directed to appear either by telephone or by video conferencing depending on the circumstances of the parties.
Preparing Affidavits for use in civil and family proceedings via Video Technology
Generally, commissioning of affidavits to be used in legal proceedings must have the deponent (a person making the affidavit under oath) physically present before lawyers or commissioners for taking affidavits. However, given the health concerns surrounding COVID-19, and the directive by the Provincial Health Officer to self-distance, the Supreme Court of British Columbia is allowing the use of video technology for commissioning of affidavits in circumstances where the physical presence of a deponent is not possible or is medically unsafe.
For a complete direction of the Court on this matter, please see this notice, dated March 27, 2020.
Effective March 18, 2020, filing deadlines under the Supreme Court Family Rules are suspended until May 1, 2020.
Effective March 26, 2020, the limitation periods and mandatory time periods for commencing a family action have been suspended. The Court will provide more directions once the suspension has been lifted.
Similar to the Supreme Court, the Provincial Courts have also limited in-person appearances to only urgent matters, with a few exceptions. The following list, updated on a regular basis, serves to provide accommodations that the Provincial Courts are making in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suspension of Regular Court Operations – Family Matters
Effective March 25, 2020, the Provincial Court of British Columbia has suspended regular operations at all of its locations to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Any individual who does not have an urgent matter before the Court should refrain from attending any courthouse. In addition:
- In-person filings at all Court locations are suspended;
- Family case conferences, family management conferences, and case conferences for child protection under the Child, Family and Community Service Act (“CFCSA”) scheduled between March 16 and May 16, 2020 will not proceed. If you had a date to attend one of these conferences between the specified dates, you should receive notification by May 4, 2020 from the Court regarding the next date you must attend;
- All non-urgent family matters, including trials, scheduled between March 18 and May 16, 2020 are adjourned without the parties having to attend Court. See pages 9 to 10 of this notice to determine the date you are now scheduled to attend if you have been affected by this adjournment.
What Matters Will Be Heard and How to Apply
Only urgent family matters, child protection matters under the CFCSA, and maintenance enforcement matters under the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act will be heard if approved by a judge.
To have urgent matters heard in Provincial Courts, applications can be sent to a judge:
- Electronically (where available) using Court Services Online;
- By email, phone or mail to the applicable local court registry; or,
- By fax to registries that accept filings by fax.
Preparing Affidavits for use in Provincial Courts via Video Technology
Please see above under Supreme Court for a brief explanation of how affidavits are normally executed. For execution of affidavits during the COVID-19 crisis, the Courts have allowed the use of video technology for commissioning of affidavits in circumstances where the physical presence of a deponent is not possible or is medically unsafe. Read the complete directions of the Court on this matter dated March 27, 2020 here.
We at Connect Family Law, are working hard to keep this list of accommodations updated on a regular basis. For up-to-the-minute information, we encourage you to visit the official websites of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and Provincial Court of British Columbia. Hoping for your health and well-being during these difficult times.
This blog was written with the assistance of Harp Basi.
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NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on the Connect Family Law website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action, based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. One of our lawyers would be pleased to discuss any specific legal concerns you may have.