BC Extends Suspension of Civil Jury Trials Due to Covid-19

The Ministry of the Attorney General of BC announced today that it is extending the current suspension of civil jury trials in the Supreme Court of B.C. until October 8, 2022 due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its affect on the Courts.

Any civil trial taking place before October 8, 2022, will be heard by Judge alone.

The Ministry of Attorney General consulted with the Supreme Court of B.C. on the extension.  Jury trials have also been temporarily suspended in other provinces including Alberta and Saskatchewan due to the pandemic.

Parties will be able to file jury notices for trials scheduled for after October 8, 2022 starting on March 29, 2021.

Criminal jury trials have already resumed as of September 8, 2020.

Read the full press release here.

Do you have a right to a Jury Trial in Canada?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees a right to a jury trial in criminal cases where “the maximum punishment for the offence is imprisonment for five years or a more severe punishment.”

There is no right to a jury trial in civil cases and there is ongoing discussion in BC whether there are areas of civil litigation where permanent elimination of civil jury trials may be appropriate.

Can you apply to adjourn a civil matter so it can be heard by a Jury?

Unless the court orders otherwise, a Plaintiff or Defendant cannot adjourn a case to be heard at a later date by a Jury.

Courts in BC have recently denied such applications to adjourn a civil trial. For example, in Vacchiano v. Chen, 2020 BCSC 1035, the Court denied an application by a defendant to adjourn a trial for a personal injury claim arising out of a car accident.  Master Muir held at paras. 27-34:

[27]        The Rules were not formulated with a pandemic in mind. They must be looked at in a purposive manner in the present circumstances.

[28]        The purpose must be consistent with the ultimate object of the rules of a “just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits”. The analysis seems to me to be similar to many others the court embarks on, and incorporates factors of balancing prejudice to achieve a just result.

[29]        Although not a “right” (see, e.g., Waymark v. Barnes (1995), 1995 CanLII 1972 (BC CA), 3 B.C.L.R. (3d) 354 (C.A) and Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia v. British Columbia (Attorney General)2017 BCCA 324), the importance of the availability of a jury trial in civil cases has been echoed in many decisions in our courts.

[30]        The importance of a jury to a defendant, however, cannot and does not outweigh all other considerations.

[31]        Looking at the strict wording of subrule 12-6(5)(a)(iii), the extra time and cost here involves likely at least a two-year adjournment, additional costs for updated expert examinations and reports, and additional examinations for discovery. That trial may well be conducted under new rules for expert reports, which could prejudice the plaintiff in that she would be unable to recover costs for some of the experts she presently relies upon.

[32]        As the defendants deny liability, a two-year delay for a trial involving a motor vehicle collision that is already five years in the past runs the obvious risk of decaying memories. Thus, a two-year delay runs the risk of affecting the ability of the parties to have a “just” proceeding on the merits.

[33]        I also note that the psychological and financial condition of the plaintiff indicates that a significant “cost” might be inflicted upon her by such a delay.

[34]        Although it is argued that the amount involved here is substantial given the amount of time that the plaintiff has been off work, in my view, that is outweighed by the additional time and cost of awaiting a jury trial.

The Court similarly granted an application of a Plaintiff to strike a jury notice so that the matter could proceed by Judge alone in Cheung v. Dhaliwal, 2020 BCSC 911.  The Cheung application was heard at a time when civil jury trials were only suspended until September 7, 2020.  Master Vos found that an adjournment of the trial would “clearly prejudice the plaintiff” and that the defendants would nevertheless be “assured of a just determination of the issues on the merits.”

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Farouk Jiwa

Mr. Jiwa has practiced exclusively in personal injury litigation for almost 14 years with a primary emphasis on ICBC Claims. Mr. Jiwa has handled cases involving all different types of accidents such as motor vehicle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, motorcycle accidents, bus accidents, boating accidents, burn injuries, product liability claims, slip and falls, dog bites, and a wide array of injuries ranging from minor soft tissue injury claims to brain injury claims to fractures to catastrophic injury claims.

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