With the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus), criminal court procedures have changed to ensure the safety of all justice system participants. While you can still be charged with criminal offences in Toronto and the GTA, COVID-19 may impact your experience in getting bail and how your case will be dealt with in court.
How is the granting of bail affected?
New procedures have been put in place to reduce the risk of viral transmission to justice system participants, especially people remanded in jail who lack the freedom to practice social distancing.
Depending on the nature of the crime, the police may be authorized to release accused person from custody without a bail hearing. A release without a bail hearing may involve an undertaking to the police with conditions, or a promise to appear in court to face the charges.
For serious offences, the police can still hold suspects in custody pending a bail hearing. In many courthouses, bail hearings can now be conducted over the phone or video without the surety or accused physically present.
While it is a key consideration for a bail judge/justice, the mere fact that COVID-19 is an ongoing health issue at a jail is not a guarantee that an accused will be granted bail. A skilled lawyer must still connect COVID-19 to a recognized legal ground so that a bail judge/justice will be satisfied in granting bail.
What happens to upcoming court hearings and trials?
All levels of court in the GTA have suspended in-court hearings and trials for the month of April with limited exceptions. Out of custody matters in set-date court will be adjourned 10 weeks into the future and the courts will be closed to the public. You will not have to attend court for your set-date appearances while the Court deems this crisis to be continuing.
If this pandemic continues to require the closure of the courts into May, then hearing and trial dates will most likely be adjourned further. Be sure to check the Courts of Ontario website, contact your criminal defence lawyer, or call the courthouse after April to determine your next court date.
How can I advance my criminal case during this period of delay?
While there may be delays in having your case heard by a judge, the Crown Attorney’s office is still addressing criminal matters but on a limited and remote basis. Your criminal defence lawyer can still speak with the Crown regarding bail variations, disclosure, or have pretrial discussions. Your lawyer can ensure that once the courts have reopened, your matter is in the best position to proceed without any further delay.
Many criminal lawyers have adapted their consultation and intake processes to allow for virtual meetings to respect social distancing. You can still receive legal advice from a skilled criminal defence lawyer over the phone or video so that preparations can begin while the court shutdown continues.