Civil jury trials suspended, ensuring timely access to justice during COVID-19

  • September 18, 2020

From the Ministry of Attorney General

Starting on Sept. 28, 2020, following consultation with the Supreme Court of B.C. and key stakeholders, the attorney general is amending the Rules of Civil Court to temporarily suspend all civil jury trials for a period of one year.

This action by the Province is intended to help courts remain safe and minimize the impact of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminal jury trials resumed on Sept. 8, 2020.

Under this temporary suspension, civil jury trials will resume on Oct. 4, 2021, with any trial taking place before this date to be heard by a 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.

This change effectively extends the direction by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of B.C. to cancel civil jury trials up to and including January 1, 2021. Other provinces, including Alberta and Saskatchewan, have also temporarily suspended civil jury trials as a result of COVID-19.

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.

Quotes:

David Eby, Attorney General –

“As we resume operations in B.C. courts under this ‘new normal,’ 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.”

Craig Ferris, president, Law Society of British Columbia –

“While civil jury trials are fundamental to our justice system, the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted access to our courts and introduced pressures that 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.”

Jennifer Brun, president, Canadian Bar Association, British Columbia Branch –

“Over the coming months, 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.”