Dear Law Society members,
As we collectively deal with the upheaval in our lives wrought by the COVID-19 virus, we wanted to reach out again to assure you that the issues you have brought to our attention have not been overlooked or ignored. We are all committed to ensuring lawyers can continue to provide essential legal services to the public we serve in a way that is compliant with all relevant legislation, Law Society Rules and the Code of Professional Conduct. To that end, following is an update on our efforts to date to address the concerns that have been brought to our attention:
As previously advised, we have been consulting with the Minister of Justice and Public Safety and his staff as well as Service NL on issues which impact on the public’s access to legal services, including the following:
Commissioning of Documents
We understand that there are concerns relating to the commissioning and/or witnessing of documents in the following specific areas:
Real estate transactions;
Wills, Enduring Power of Attorneys and Advance Health Care Directives; Family law matters;
Statutory Declarations (particularly as they are related to the construction industry);
Registrations under the Mineral Act.
As we know this list may not be exhaustive, we have asked the Government to consider, in addition to remedies for these specific areas, alternative mechanisms for all situations which require the commissioning or witnessing of documents.
We have forwarded to the Government all information we have collected from other jurisdictions in Canada and will continue to do so.
We have requested the Government to consider the suspension of limitation periods and time periods within which steps must be taken in a proceeding.
As above, we have forwarded to the Government all information we have collected from other jurisdictions in Canada on this issue.
The Minister, his staff and the staff at Service NL have been readily available and are working hard to try to address these issues. However, these are unusual circumstances and it is possible that they may not be able to provide clarity on all issues.
In addition to our communications with the Provincial Government, we are forwarding to the Court all issues that come to our attention.
We were asked to seek clarification on the meaning of “imminent” as stated in s. 5 of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Notice to the Profession and General Public, which states:
The Court registry will accept electronic filings (via email or fax) where a statutory deadline, or limitation period under the Limitations Act, S.N.L. 1995, c. L-16.1, is imminent.
The Court has advised that it will accept electronic filings via email or fax where a limitation period is expiring while the court is operating with reduced resources and there is no direct access to the Court registry. The Court is asking members to exercise their discretion in good faith when making filings with the Court.
We have also asked the Court to provide some guidance on identifying urgent and significant issues that may arise in BIA, CCAA and CBCA matters.
We will provide updates on the above noted issues when we have further information from either the Government or the Court.
Meanwhile, we again urge you to ensure that you continue to provide legal services to the public in a manner that is compliant with the required social distancing and other protocols in effect during this public health emergency.
If you have any questions or concerns that have not been addressed by the information provided above, please contact the Law Society’s Executive Director, Brenda Grimes, QC at firstname.lastname@example.org