On March 19, 2020, the Supreme Court of British Columbia suspended regular operations to protect the health and safety of court users and to help contain the spread of COVID-19. All civil and family matters scheduled for hearing between March 19, 2020 and May 1, 2020 were adjourned, unless the Court otherwise directed. This automatic adjournment extended to all trials, conferences, chambers applications and other hearings. On April 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of British Columbia extended the suspension to May 29, 2020.
Since June 3, 2020, the Supreme Court has posted notices, detailing when and how regular court operations, such as trials, trial management conferences and chambers will resume. See for instance Notices 25, 26 and 28 posted on the Courts of British Columbia website. On June 30, 2020 the Court posted Notice 32, a Notice to the Profession, the Public and the Media Regarding Civil, Family and Bankruptcy and Insolvency Proceedings.
So Litigation and Court Business As Usual?
Not quite. Notices 25, 26 and 28 modify the Supreme Court Civil Rules. For instance, Notice 26 details that while the Supreme Court is taking all steps necessary to prepare to hear trials scheduled on or after June 8, 2020, the Court cannot guarantee that matters will proceed as scheduled. Notice 28 sets out chambers applications, estimated to take 2 hours or less, will be conducted by telephone.
Limitation Periods and Filing Deadlines
On March 26, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General issued Ministerial Order no. M086 (“M086”), which suspended certain limitation periods to commence court proceedings in British Columbia. In particular, M086 provided that mandatory limitation periods, and other mandatory time periods established in an enactment or law of British Columbia, within which a civil or family action, proceeding, claim or appeal must be commenced in the provincial court, Supreme Court or Court of Appeal are suspended.
The Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General made M086 under the Emergency Program Act to recognize that during the COVID-19 pandemic, British Columbians involved in legal or administrative proceedings may be unable to take steps required by legislation.
On April 8, 2020, the Minister of Public Safety and the Solicitor General published Ministerial Order No. M098 (“M098”). M098 applied during the current State of Emergency, including any extension of the state of emergency.
On June 24, 2020, the Government of British Columbia extended the Provincial State of Emergency until the end of day July 7, 2020.
The provincial government has recently introduced the COVID-19 Related Measures Act. This is legislation that will allow for measures created in response to the pandemic to be formalized or unwound after the provincial state of emergency ends. The legislation will extend specific ministerial orders, such as the order regarding limitation periods, for 90 days after the end of the state of emergency. Ideally, this will give lawyers and the public adequate notice to plan and prepare. The legislation, including a schedule of all the ministerial orders that are to be extended, is available here:
Am I currently prevented from takings steps to advance my claim right now?
British Columbia Supreme Court registries are accepting filing of Notices of Civil Claim by e-filing, and many process servers are back on the job.