The Ontario Superior Court has released Virtual Courtroom Etiquette Rules. These Rules come into effect April 19, 2022. Most of them make sense. For example, be on mute until your matter is called. Dress as if you were attending Court.
There is one Rule however that needs to be changed:
(v) When appearing via video, the only beverage permitted is water and it must be in a clear glass or container.
Look, I’m fine with wearing my Court shirt, wool vest and robes to litigate virtually. I’m fine with the no sunglasses on (who does that?) and no feet up on the desk rules. However, I’m not fine with rules that make no sense.
When litigating in “real Court” I was told that the reason we are only permitted water is to ensure there is no sticky mess if other types of beverages are brought in and spilled. That makes sense.
If the issue is “decorum” then this can be solved by requiring that any mugs not have logos or words on them. I completely expect that some counsel used mugs that raised a few eyebrows during virtual hearings – a criminal lawyer friend of mine had one that said “not guilty” which I don’t think they used on screen but appreciate would have been inappropriate if they had.
If the issue, as some have suggested, is people drinking alcohol during virtual Court, then I’m going to point out, straight vodka is rumoured to be the beverage of choice of alcoholics and it will pass the clear glass test no problem.
Also, if we’re sticking to the “water in a clear glass” rule – I need clarification. I like sparkling water: is that permitted or must it be still? Must it be room temperature or is chilled with ice permitted? Can the water be from a bottled source or must it be from a tap.
I’m not going to suggest lawyers surround Osgoode Hall in Toronto, sipping coffee loudly from travel mugs until the powers that be cannot take it anymore and give in to letting us sip coffee from virtual hearings. Mostly because I don’t think the powers that be are actually there and well, we don’t need law firms having their accounts frozen over a blockade, but still.
This is a rule that needs to be revisited.
Literally, the only good thing from the pandemic was being able to sip coffee during court – I don’t want to lose that.
Inga B. Andriessen, JD