Jury trials in Ontario suspended until at least the spring

The Ontario Superior Court building is seen in Toronto on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

New jury trials in Ontario will not resume until at least mid-spring, the province’s chief justice said Wednesday.

A suspension on jury trials had already been in place across much of the province for months, with new trials only allowed in Green Zone areas of the province’s tiered reopening framework.

That suspension had been set to last until at least Feb. 1. However Ontario entered a provincewide lockdown on Dec. 26 and this week Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency and a stay-at-home order for the entire province as well.

The new orders are meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to prevent rising case numbers from overwhelming the healthcare system. While vaccinations have begun, the latest modelling indicates that the number of cases will continue to rise rapidly without drastic interventions.

“While the Ontario Superior Court of Justice remains open during the provincial lockdown, the court must continue to make necessary changes in response to the evolving public health situation,” Chief Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz wrote Wednesday in an update on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice website.

“In view of the new provincial restrictions announced on January 12, 2021, effective January 13, 2021, the suspension of jury trials will be extended until May 3, 2021 at the earliest. No new jury selection will commence during this period.”

Proceedings that were already in progress may continue at the discretion of the trial judge.

Morawetz said all non-jury matters should proceed virtually unless “it is absolutely necessary to hold the proceedings in-person.”

“To the greatest extent possible, all other avenues should be explored and implemented. This applies to proceedings throughout the province and will remain in effect until further notice of this Court.”

All court rooms will also be subject to a 10-person capacity limit.