The Justice System and COVID-19 – We cannot Lose the Human Element

The Justice System and COVID-19 – We cannot Lose the Human Element

On behalf of Neuberger & Partners LLP posted in COVID-19 on Friday April 03, 2020.

The Justice System and COVID-19 – We cannot Lose the Human Element

Joseph A. Neuberger
Neuberger & Partners LLP
Criminal Defence Lawyers

Access to the legal system and the proper functioning of our courts is an essential public service. Though the courts are not completely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, case processing has slowed to the point that the backlog will cause significant problems.

Former Chief Justice of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, writing for The Lawyer’s Daily, “beseech[ed] governments across Canada to see COVID-19 and the courts’ woeful inability to pivot as a wake-up call.”

As many other types of services have changed the way they do business in order to protect employees and clients, there are ways that the legal system could use technology to adapt as well. Many procedural and administrative hearings could be handled remotely to reduce the load on the system and social distancing concerns can be implemented for some in court hearings as well.

Trials are a different matter.

There is a human element at the core of the justice system which is integral to maintaining just outcomes. For an accused in a criminal trial, their physical presence is a reminder that there is a human life at stake in the outcome. This human element cannot be replaced by an image on a computer screen.

People form impressions of each other through both words and body language. As we know from studies of the disinhibited way people behave on the internet, interactions solely through a computer can cause us to treat each other with less compassion and connection to consequences. While written submissions provide opportunity to review and perfect wording, oral submissions in court are much more dynamic and thus compelling.

In live court hearings, judges can also give better voice to their questions, ask for clarifications on the evidence and carefully observe witnesses as they testify. The deference given by appellate courts to the credibility assessments of trial judges is based on that judge’s presence in the courtroom during testimony.

Though alternate means of testifying can be provided, there is good reason that all options to have a witness present in course is first exhausted before other measures are employed.

There are many ways that procedural meetings and preliminary discussions can take place using digital technology, but we should be very cautious before reducing a trial to paperwork and a video screen.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin stated, “It is incumbent on governments to prioritize justice as a critical and essential part of the functioning of our society and ensure that the people at the heart of the system have the tools to meet the demand.”

It is just as important that we find the means of employing safety measures and physical distancing that restores functionality without sacrificing the human element that is essential to fair trials.

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CONTACT INFORMATION

1392 Eglinton Avenue West
Toronto, ON M6C 2E4
Fax (416) 364-3271

COVID-19 UPDATE

On behalf of Neuberger & Partners LLP posted in COVID-19 on Tuesday March 17, 2020.

At Neuberger and Partners, we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation and have implemented safety measures to ensure the safety of our clients and staff. Our priority is and always will be the health, well-being and safety of our staff, clients and colleagues.

We have put in place various measures to prevent and minimize the impact of COVID-19:

  • In addition to standard hand-washing habits, our staff are washing hands before and after every client interaction;
  • All individuals entering our office will be required to use our hand sanitizer to ensure the safety of our other clients and staff;
  • Regular disinfecting of our offices, public areas, meeting rooms and board rooms as well as increasing the frequency of disinfection of higher-traffic surface areas;
  • If a lawyer or client who has a scheduled meeting is feeling unwell, they will be strongly encouraged to stay home;
  • For the time being, we will avoid greeting clients and colleagues with our usual handshakes;
  • We will make every effort to ensure our firm will be stocked up with extra tissue and alcohol-based hand sanitizer; and
  • We will monitor and stay informed from the Government of Canada and World Health Organization for facts as they become available. We will ensure all staff and team members are educated on symptoms and are well informed on prevention and best practices.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Will the firm still run if there are closures?

  • We are committed to assisting our clients. We remain open to assist our clients at this time (following aforementioned standards for health and safety). For clients who wish to communicate with our firm virtually, we have the technology for virtual meetings and are able to respond to the needs of our clients in a manner best to protect our staff and clients’ health.

Are staff and lawyers set up to work virtually?

  • All lawyers and staff are set up to work virtually and continue to assist clients and one another remotely. All lawyers are available via telephone, email and virtual video conferencing.

What is the court situation? How will we deal with court closures?

  • At this time, the Superior Court of Justice is closed from March 17, 2020 to June 1, 2020 – unless a judge orders otherwise.
    If you have a March matter, your matter will be postponed to June 2, 2020.
    April matters will be postponed to June 3, 2020 and May matters will be pushed to June 4, 2020.
  • Similarly, the Ontario Court of Justice will be closed for 10 weeks for all out of custody matters in criminal practice court. In custody matters will still be addressed. It is unclear if out of custody matters such as trials or preliminary hearings will continue since the courts have left this decision to the discretion of the judges. However, Bail courts will remain open for the time being.
  • The Court of Appeal for Ontario has suspended all scheduled appeals until April 3, 2020. But we are still able to file materials and apply for urgent appeals to be heard.
  • We will advise clients by email of their next Court date.

How can payments be made?

  • Payments can be made via e-transfer and visa payments can be made over the phone.

If I have to deliver something to my lawyer, how shall I go about it?

  • For clients who wish to drop off documents but do not wish to come in contact with any one at the firm, you are encouraged to drop them off in our mail slot in front of our office.

We will be open and available for any questions, comments or concerns. Please call (416) 364-3111 for any further information.

Stay safe and healthy,

Joseph Neuberger