664 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 5 SEPTEMBER 2020
In responding to the coronavirus outbreak, how has the court considered the
impact on different populations?
When we issue practice directions, we think about the impact on people
with literacy challenges, language barriers, technological inabilities, hearing
or visual impairments, and other challenges. We can’t leave them
behind; they’re the people who need us the most. We have to think through
the effects on different groups so we can provide equal access.
How has the court dealt with criminal jury trials?
Since the coronavirus outbreak, there haven’t been any criminal jury trials.
At the moment, we don’t even have enough space to impanel a criminal
jury given social distancing requirements. We’re going to try to run some
jury trials in the fall, but we will have to stagger the jury selection process
because even if we did it in the Great Hall, public health requirements prohibit
gatherings of more than 50 people, and we need a lot more than 50
people to impanel a criminal jury.
The next question is: If we impanel a criminal jury, where are they going
to sit? The seats in the jury boxes are too close together. We considered
using Plexiglas, but that leaves the jurors kind of encased. So we expect to
use two courtrooms per criminal jury trial. Also, the jury deliberation
rooms are too small to accommodate social distancing requirements. In
short, we’re running into all kinds of problems with criminal jury trials.
That said, we’ve met with Crown counsel and the criminal defence bar, and
both are looking for solutions. There is some suggestion, at least in Ontario,
of reducing the size of criminal juries to six in order to accommodate social
distancing requirements. I don’t see that happening without a lot of consultation,
and I’m not sure that, from a constitutional perspective, it can be
What is the caseload like right now?
At the moment, we have fewer cases than available judges. The motor vehicle
cases have not come back, and since announcing that we’re going to
have criminal jury trials in the fall, we’ve seen more guilty pleas. We are not
having to bounce cases the way we normally do. Judges are getting bored.
But, eventually, we are going to have a huge backlog of cases to get through.
How is the court going to deal with that backlog?
It will be a real challenge. Some have suggested that we sit longer hours or
have weekend hearings. There’s even a suggestion that we have two shifts:
one during the day and one at night. I don’t think these are realistic solutions.
I don’t think it’s realistic to expect judges and our unionized court