B.C. suspending civil jury trials in response to pandemic

  • September 21, 2020

By Ian Burns for The Lawyer's Daily

The B.C. government is suspending civil jury trials for just over a year as a means of minimizing the impact of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The suspension begins Sept. 28 and will run until Oct. 4, 2021. Any trial taking place during this time period will be heard by judge alone. In addition, neither plaintiffs nor defendants will be permitted to adjourn cases to a later date in order to have the matter heard by a jury, unless the court orders otherwise.

Attorney General David Eby said as court operations resume under the “new normal” brought about by COVID-19 “we must do all we can to work through the backlog of cases and give individuals access to justice in a timely manner.”

“We have made these changes in consultation with key sector stakeholders, working together to find the best way forward with civil jury trials in British Columbia while adapting our court system to keep individuals safe during the pandemic,” he said.

The suspension of civil jury trials will help to minimize any delays arising from the impact of additional safety measures required in courts as a result of COVID-19, such as the need to find alternative locations or rearrange rooms to allow for physical distancing, installing plexiglass barriers and hand wash stations in the courthouse, and carrying out enhanced cleaning and regular health screenings. Other provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, have also temporarily suspended civil jury trials as a result of COVID-19.

Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) president Craig Ferris said, although jury trials are fundamental to the justice system, the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic disrupted access to courts and introduced pressures which require exceptional measures.

“The law society supports this temporary initiative as a way of ensuring the public can still have their cases heard while everyone works through this current crisis,” he said.

And Jennifer Brun, president of the Canadian Bar Association, B.C. Branch (CBABC), said “we must all adapt to this new reality by following the advice and recommendations of our provincial health officer.”

“That holds true in our courts too, and we support the extraordinary measure of suspending civil jury trials for a year to keep those in our justice system safe during this pandemic,” she said.

Criminal jury trials in B.C. resumed Sept. 8.