The Impact of COVID on Quebec’s Judicial System

Interlegal Permanent Officer

Interlegal Permanent Officer


Not too long ago, our state-run lottery in Quebec came up with a television advertisement campaign and slogan to generate sale.  For years, the slogan went :  “Winning millions won’t change a person, except that…”  The camera would then pan-out and show a lottery winner in a situation which had undoubtedly cost millions.

Much the same can be said of our judicial system. The COVID pandemic didn’t change our judicial system, except that, it changed the world around it.  As the camera pans-out on the judicial landscape, we now regularly take part in virtual court hearings and we now file lawsuits and other proceedings from the comfort of our offices.  

I do not believe the pandemic caused these changes to occur, but it has availed itself the virtual kick-in-the-pants for which our system had been longing for so long…

Quebec government’s Approach to Virtual Judicial Registry

In early 2020, prior to the pandemic, the Quebec government  had effectively been toying with the idea of a web-based Virtual Judicial Registry for decades.  If memory serves, my retired father, also a lawyer, had taken part in serious discussions on the subject in the early 90s’.  I’m convinced that over these years, our government ordered numerous studies and spent millions on reports analyzing how the world’s most progressive judicial systems had entered the electronic age.  While our government dilly-dallied about and continued to insist on the exchange of documents by fax (I kid you not!), the pandemic train – to which we would awaken in mid-March 2020, and which would destroy our collective little red wagons – had already left the station.  Little did we know, it was barrelling uncontrollably down on us.

I must admit, I was impressed by the unusual speed at which the Quebec government adapted to the situation, particularly in light of the fact that, from one day to the next, it’s Health Department had set down some of the world’s most restrictive COVID measures. Upon learning the extend of these measures, I expected our judicial system to be down-for-the-count, halted and accumulating monstrous backlogs.  I dared not think of the end result…  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Well.  Somewhat.

Politicians, judges and the law community all rolled up their sleeves and went to work at a speed which I did not know they possessed, particularly in a collaborative setting.  But dire situations and hardship have this uniting quality. 

Measures to facilitate court proceedings during Covid

Three distinct measures were put into place in relative record speed.  

First, from the onset of the pandemic lockdown, our Chief Justice and our minister of Justice suspended all delays relating the statutes of limitations and the forfeiture of rights, as well as those relating to ongoing judicial procedures.  This measure remained in place for the following 170 days.  This allowed our government to adapt our system to the pandemic restrictions and, in the process, modernize and streamline our antiquated tools of justice, without jeopardizing the rights of litigants.  

Also, less than three months following the enactment of this lockdown, on June 15, 2020, a Virtual Court Registry was inaugurated, thereby joining the ranks of our virtual Land Registry and the virtual Moveable Rights Registry, which had been in place for more than a decade.  From this moment on, any litigants could file a lawsuit or other court proceedings virtually.  To say this measure was a long time coming is an understatement.

Thirdly, and most importantly, most if not all of our court rooms were rapidly upgraded with the required equipment to hold virtual hearings, thereby allowing litigants and their attorneys a well as witnesses to attend hearings from their home, offices or even from abroad.  Permanent Microsoft Teams® addresses were created for most court rooms to allow everyone to simply log into a hearing.  New rules compelling attorneys to attend hearings virtually were put into place.  Consequently, baring leave from the Court authorizing face-to-face hearings to take place, all matters which do not require testimony evidence are now, by rule, heard virtually by our courts.

Nothing is perfect, of course.  There are pernicious side effects to streamlining the judicial process in this fashion.  On the one hand, things that move faster are sometime pleasantly eye-catching.  They often appear sleeker, trimmer and more efficient.  But looks can be deceiving.

Indeed, in my view, facilitating access to our judicial system in this fashion has allowed our government to fulfill one of its long-standing mantras.  But facilitating access to the court, has side effects.  The ease and cost effectiveness comes of this access comes at a price.  From my experience, most courts in our jurisdiction have seen a significant increase in the number of these expedient requests, which has caused a perceptible increase in delays to have these requests heard.  In hindsight, this should have been expected and perhaps it was…

So, I don’t believe the COVID pandemic changed our judicial system per se, but from one day to the next, it turned long-standing plans into urgent and immediate necessities.  This forceful shove by COVID turned out to be sufficiently energetic to rapidly yield effective and long-awaited results. 

Mr. Dominique Lavin

YULEX, Attorneys and Strategists, LLP

  • The judicial system is governed by each province, in Canada.
  • March 15, 2020.
  • By decree, which was renewed every few weeks.
  • Till September 1, 2020.
  • The greffe numérique judiciaire du Québec.
  • The Registre foncier du Québec.
  • The Registre des droits personnels et mobiliers du Québec (RDPRM).
  • Prior to this, only a very few courtrooms were properly equipped.

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