COVID-19: Update on measures taken by authorities affecting the administration of justice.
We announced Saturday that several measures had been put in place by the Minister of Justice and by the Superior Court and the Court of Quebec. Other measures were announced late yesterday evening. These measures are part of the state of health emergency declared by the Government of Quebec. [Translated from French] “From now on, all the hearings to be held before a judicial court, an administrative tribunal or another body of public administration will be held behind closed doors, that is to say without the presence of the public in the rooms. “
In addition, the Minister of Justice exercises the power conferred to them by article 27 of the Code of Civil Procedure. This article allows them, when a state of emergency is declared, to suspend certain time limits. The Minister and the Chief Justice of Quebec therefore jointly issued Order 2020-4251. The relevant passage in this document reads as follows: [Translated from French] “The periods of extinctive prescription and forfeiture in civil matters are suspended until the expiration of the period of declaration of state of health emergency provided for by Decree No. 177-2020 of March 13, 2020. Likewise, the deadlines for civil proceedings are suspended during this period, with the exception of cases deemed urgent by the courts.”
The procedural deadlines are found in the Code of Civil Procedure and they concern the course of judicial proceedings before a court of justice. The limitation periods are set out in the Civil Code. Although the subject is broad and complex, let’s say it is the time that is allowed by law to exercise a remedy. Deadlines for forfeiture may be established in the Civil Code or in specific laws. They resemble limitation periods, BUT the main difference is that limitation periods can be suspended, but not forfeiture periods.
And this is where we must warn the business community against the risks of the text of the decree. Indeed, it covers limitation periods, lapse periods and procedural periods. While there is no doubt about the Minister’s authority with respect to limitation and procedural time limits, the same cannot be said of forfeiture periods.
Indeed, article 27 of the Code of Civil Procedure on which the Minister relies does not mention the time limits for forfeiture. In addition, as we have already said, the deadlines cannot be suspended. It is not impossible that in the coming months the courts will reinterpret the rules surrounding the time limits for revocation and recognize the validity of their suspension. It would, however, be a dramatic reversal of the jurisprudence.