LPAT – Current State of Hearing Procedures
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and associated Emergency Order, the Local Planning Appeal Board (“LPAT”) is continuing operations, though in a modified format.
The LPAT is not currently scheduling hearings of new appeals, though we understand it is working toward that objective. In contrast, the LPAT is scheduling video and hybrid hearings for certain ongoing matters.
Aside from the telephone conference calls, which have long been used by the LPAT to address procedural aspects of a case, the LPAT has now held some hearings via video conference. Video conferences are exclusively digital and take place through a video conference provider, such as GoToMeeting.
Hybrid hearings have both a physical and digital element. The Tribunal Member, witness giving evidence, witnesses’ counsel and cross-examining counsel are all in one room, up to a set maximum occupancy. Another room, or rooms, are used as overflow space for other counsel or witnesses expecting to give evidence that same day. All others, such as registered participants or members of the public, are able to attend via a livestream video conference.
Based on emergent practice, there are several factors the LPAT will consider in assessing the suitability of holding a virtual or hybrid hearing. For virtual hearings, the degree of public interest and number of participants is a key consideration. Additionally, the complexity of the issues and associated importance of in-person evidence, in assessing the credibility of a witness, is also a consideration for virtual hearings. Other typical factors include the convenience of the format, its probable efficiency, accessibility (e.g. to the internet) and the risk of prejudice arising from the hearing format. Similar factors apply to hybrid hearings, with the added need to have suitable hearing space available.
While we understand that the LPAT is looking at how in person hearings can be resumed, we do not anticipate the return of more regular in-person hearings until Ontario has moved further along in the reopening process and most likely not until sometime in 2021.
As for a return to “business as usual” at the LPAT, it’s too soon to tell whether the digital practices will be discarded altogether or whether we can look forward to a new, more digital, era.