Government issues consultation paper in Civil Liability Review

May 7, 2002

The Ministry of Attorney General recently announced a law reform initiative to review provincial civil liability laws. As part of this Civil Liability Review, the Ministry has issued a consultation paper and a feedback questionnaire to solicit the views of interested parties.

The deadline for responses, originally set for June 15, has been reset for October 1, 2002.

According to the Ministry, the primary focus of the Civil Liability Review is to consider "whether it is appropriate to impose reasonable limits on civil liability where it is fair to do so and consistent with our expectations that the justice system be efficient, accessible and affordable."

The civil liability review will canvass six topics:

1. Limitation laws

2. Joint and several liability

3. Costs in class action suits

4. Vicarious liability holding employers responsible for the actions of their employees

5. Non-delegable duty doctrine

6. Alternatives to traditional "lump sum" damage awards

Lawyers and others are invited to raise other topics of interest or concern, and to suggest other areas of civil liability they think should be considered for reform. In the Civil Liability Review consultation paper, the Ministry specifies that, in the area of motor vehicle injury claims, it will not be considering such options as threshold, first-offer or no-fault insurance.

The Law Society's Futures Committee, Access to Justice Working Group and Independence of the Bar Working Group are looking at the issues raised in this consultation.

The Ministry of Attorney General's consultation paper, questionnaire and background materials are available at www.ag.gov.bc.ca/liability-review.

Courthouse litigation adjourned to July 15

On May 6 the Attorney General announced that 12 courthouses scheduled to close on June 1 will continue to accommodate sittings for a further 60 days. Following consultation with the Provincial Court, the government agreed to postpone closing facilities in Castlegar, Chetwynd, Creston, Fernie, Grand Forks, Invermere, Kitimat, Lillooet, Merritt, Revelstoke, Squamish and Vanderhoof and to allow them to remain as circuit courts, although registries in those locations will close on May 31.

The government gave these communities priority because of their location and distance from other court facilities. In announcing the extension, the Attorney General stated that, for circuit courts to continue in these locations on a permanent basis, or for circuit courts to be implemented in other rural communities, those municipalities must participate in the cost. Circuit courts in Hope and 100 Mile House were previously announced on the basis of municipal participation. Ten other provincial courthouses remain slated for closure on June 1.

In light of this decision and ongoing discussions between the Attorney General and the Provincial Court, the Law Society has adjourned its constitutional challenge of the court closures to July 15.

The Society had filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court in March, challenging the provincial government's decision to close 24 provincial courthouses across B.C. and seeking a declaration that the government's decision, and any steps taken to implement it, are unlawful and unconstitutional. For more information, see "what's new" at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.

Suspension

Lawrence E. Pierce, of Vancouver, will be suspended for three months, effective June 3, 2002. A discipline hearing panel ordered the suspension in January, 2000 after having found Mr. Pierce guilty of professional misconduct. Mr. Pierce applied to the Supreme Court of B.C. for a judicial review and the Discipline Committee consented to an interim stay of his penalty pending the review. The Supreme Court set aside the hearing panel's verdict; that decision was subsequently overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal on April 23, 2002: Pierce v. The Law Society of British Columbia 2002 BCCA 251. For a summary of the hearing panel decision, see Discipline Case Digest 00/12.