E-hearings

General Policy Statement re: Virtual Hearings

Federal Court

[1]            The Federal Court is committed to remaining accessible to Canadians during this extraordinary time, while still ensuring the safety and health of all those who are involved in the Court’s process. To this end, some hearings will be continuing virtually as video conferences. This document outlines the Court’s approach to such hearings. However, at all times, a presiding judge or prothonotary has discretion to depart from this general policy, based on the applicable law and the circumstances of the matter. For information on the technical aspects of participating in a virtual hearing at the Federal Court, see the guides posted on the Federal Court website.

[2]           Video conferences:  For the time being, the Court will be conducting video conferences over Zoom.  The Court has used Zoom for several years to connect participants in remote locations (e.g., experts in intellectual property cases) to a hearing and has successfully used it to conduct full virtual hearings in the past two weeks.  Once parties have been scheduled for a virtual hearing, information on how to connect to the proceeding will be provided by the Registry before the hearing date. Participants to the proceeding will receive a URL link, a hearing ID number, and a password to the hearing, which they can use to connect to the hearing at least thirty (30) minutes before the start time.

  • B.    Cyber-security: The Court is aware of the criticisms of Zoom published in the media in recent weeks and has reviewed the technology literature, including the guidance provided by the Canadian Cyber Security Agency. It has also consulted technical experts about those criticisms. The version of Zoom used by the Courts Administration Service (CAS) to assist the Court to conduct hearings employs stronger privacy and security controls than the free or low fee versions made available to the general public. It  is being regularly updated.  In addition, the Court has developed a security protocol that includes several safeguards, including password-protecting all Court video conferences held over this or any other platform.

  • C.    Confidentiality: The Court will work with parties to ensure that any confidential information that may need to be addressed during a video conference is protected to the maximum extent possible. There are a number of ways of achieving this, and these will be discussed with the parties during the preparation for the hearing.

  • D.    Privacy: Access to a Zoom virtual hearing will be rigorously controlled by the Court. Participants, including counsel, who do not wish to be seen will be permitted to turn off the video function and participate only by audio feed. In this regard, the platform permits participants to control their own video image. In addition, many modern webcams, including those integrated into laptops and monitors, have shutters that may be closed to prevent transmission of video images. Where these steps are taken, it will remain clear which participant is speaking at any point in time.

  • E.     Access by the Media and the general public: To respect the open court principle, observers, including members of the general public and members of the media, ordinarily will be permitted to view and hear the proceedings upon registration (see p. 7 of the Updated Practice Direction and Order (COVID-19) dated April 4, 2020).  However, they themselves will not be seen or heard. In some exceptional cases, only an audio feed will be made available.

    Upon receipt of a valid registration, participants will be sent a URL link, a hearing ID number, and a password to access the proceeding. Participants must use a screen name that accurately identifies them.

    Except with leave of the Court, everyone is expressly prohibited from (i) sharing the link to another person, and (ii) making any recording of the proceeding. The recording of proceedings will continue to be governed by the Court’s Policy on Public and Media Access. Transcripts will be prepared as in the normal course of Court proceedings if necessary. For greater certainty, the Court does not intend to live-stream the proceedings via social media, as has been done in some other jurisdictions. The Court’s Policy on Public and Media Access remains in full effect.

  • F.     Courtroom Decorum and Procedure: Rules of Courtroom decorum and procedure, to the extent possible, continue to apply to virtual hearings. Professional, respectful attire and behaviour is expected from all participants. However, it will not be necessary for counsel to gown. During the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual hearings will be recorded and are a part of the court record. Information on best practices for participating in a virtual hearing is available in the guides posted on the Federal Court website.

  • G.     Interpretation: Interpretation services for virtual hearings are available upon request to any party to the proceedings. Usual procedure for requesting interpretation services continues to apply (see https://www.fct-cf.gc.ca/en/pages/representing-yourself/interpretation-services#cont).    

[3]           Exchange of electronic documents: The Court is aware that Zoom permits the transmission of documents between parties and the Court. However, Zoom will not normally be used by the Court for that purpose.

  • A.    In the short term, the Court will consider the use of any cloud based document exchange solution preferred by the parties (e.g., Dropbox or iCloud etc.,) so long as it is for transitory purposes only. All documents filed as evidence or received by the Court during a hearing must be stored as part of the Court record.  Upon request, the Court may allow participants to share their screen to display a document.

[4]           Video conferences (long term): Over the longer term, the Court will continue to evaluate technology solutions to support virtual hearings, and that will best integrate with the Court’s e-filing and records management system.  

[5]          The Federal Court will continue to monitor this extraordinary pandemic situation as it evolves. Parties are encouraged to follow the Court on Twitter (@FedCourt_CAN_en) and regularly visit the Court’s website (www.fct-cf.gc.ca) for updates and for information regarding changes in the scope of the Court’s operations and virtual hearing procedure. The Court is committed to being as flexible as reasonably possible in assisting the public to deal with this situation and the hardship that it is causing.

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