On March 30, 2020, the B.C. Supreme Court posted an updated notice regarding suspension of court operations. A copy of the notice can be found here.
Effective March 19, 2020 and until further notice, regular operations of the Supreme Court of British Columbia at all of its locations have been suspended. All civil and family matters scheduled for hearing between March 19, 2020 and May 1, 2020 have been adjourned, unless the court otherwise directs. Courthouses are still open, but all persons are strongly discouraged from attending at the courthouse unless absolutely necessary or ordered by the court. In person registry services have been suspended.
It remains the case that limitation periods have been suspended, as discussed in a previous post found here.
The court will now hear only essential and urgent matters. The notice outlines the procedure to request a hearing of an essential or urgent matter. Certain listed matters are presumed to be “essential” or “urgent”, and the court has discretion to hear other matters not listed (or decline to hear a matter presumed to be essential or urgent). A judge will decide whether a matter is essential or urgent and is to be heard.
Some elder law and estate litigation matters may fall within certain of the “essential” or “urgent” categories, which include:
- Refusal of treatment and end of life matters;
- Emergency adult guardianship and committeeship orders, including under the Adult Guardianship Act and Patients Property Act. A substitute decision maker may need to be appointed to manage the financial and personal affairs of an incapacitated person on an urgent basis; and
- Urgent injunction applications or preservation orders. While these are relatively rare in the estate litigation context, as an example there may be a real likelihood that a personal representative or other person intends to cause irreparable harm by disposing of or destroying estate assets.
In certain circumstances, a beneficiary may seek the urgent removal of an executor, to protect the welfare of the beneficiaries. However, there must be a strong case for urgency if the matter is to be set for hearing at this time.
Most estate litigation matters will not be considered urgent or essential, and so any court hearings will have to wait until the court resumes regular operations. In the meantime, parties can take other steps in the litigation, such as filing and serving pleadings, exchanging documents, and conducting examinations for discovery, so that legal proceedings continue to move forward and are ready to go to a hearing when the courts reopen to all matters. Parties are also still free to negotiate or mediate (including by video) to attempt to resolve matters.
These circumstances are quickly changing (and the state of emergency will eventually be cancelled), and so any affected party should regularly check the B.C. Supreme Court website.