Civil Justice Reform Working Group calls for fundamental changes

The Civil Justice Reform Working Group (CJRWG) has issued a report calling for fundamental changes to litigation in BC’s courts.

“We envision a civil justice system that assists citizens in obtaining just solutions to legal problems quickly and affordably,” the CJRWG said in a 142-page report released in November. “This vision involves providing everyone, regardless of their means, with access to civil justice.”

The 12-member CJRWG — co-chaired by BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner and Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, QC — was established in November 2004 by the BC Justice Review Task Force (JRTF) to explore fundamental change to the civil, non-family process.

The working group’s report, Effective and Affordable Civil Justice, is the result of two years’ work, including consultation with the legal profession, review of 35 written submissions, a conference on restructuring justice, a Supreme Court file review and extensive analysis of research in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

The report outlines two broad strategies:

  • providing integrated information and services to support those who want to resolve their legal problems on their own before entering the court system; and
  • providing a streamlined, accessible Supreme Court system where matters that can be settled are settled quickly and affordably and matters that need a trial get to trial quickly and affordably.

The report also provides three recommendations for implementing these strategies.

The first recommendation involves the introduction of a single place (referred to as a “hub”) where people can go to get the information and services they require to solve legal problems on their own. The hub will coordinate existing law-related services, provide legal information and provide access to legal advice through a clinic model.

The CJRWG notes that the legal clinics proposed for the hubs “may depend in part upon the keen involvement of lawyers and law students on a largely pro bono basis.” The report supports the work of the Law Society’s Unbundling Legal Services Task Force, noting that the ability to hire a lawyer for a discrete task is “an essential ingredient of a hub clinic model.” The report also calls on the Law Society to ensure conflict of interest rules do not prevent lawyers from volunteering at pro bono clinics.

The second recommendation is that parties to Supreme Court actions personally attend a Case Planning Conference (CPC) with a judge before they engage the system beyond initiating and responding to a claim.

The proposed CPC builds on two existing initiatives: the Rule 68 Expedited Litigation Project Rule and the Rule 60E Family Law Judicial Case Conference Pilot Project.

With the assistance of a judge, Case Planning Conferences will try to determine the most appropriate method for resolving the dispute. CPC judges will have extensive powers to limit discovery, to order the number of experts a party may call, to order mediation or other dispute resolution process, to limit trial length or to make any other orders necessary to produce an efficient resolution of the case.

The third recommendation involves a complete rewriting of the Supreme Court Rules based on the principle of proportionality so that the amount and type of process is directly linked to the amount and type of claim.

Additional recommendations for Rule changes include:

  • abolish the current pleading process and instead adopt a new case initiation and defence process that requires the parties to accurately and succinctly state the facts and the issues in dispute and to provide a plan for conducting the case and achieving a resolution;
  • limit discovery, while requiring early disclosure of key information;
  • limit the parameters of expert evidence;
  • streamline motion practice;
  • provide the judiciary with power to make orders to streamline the trial process;
  • consolidate all three regulations regarding the Notice to Mediate into one rule under the Supreme Court Rules; and
  • provide opportunities for litigants to quickly resolve issues that create an impasse.

For background information and a copy of the report, see The working group includes representatives from the Law Society of BC, the Canadian Bar Association, the BC Supreme Court, the BC Provincial Court, the Legal Services Society, Court Services and members of the Bar.

The Deputy Attorney General and Chief Justice Brenner will be touring communities throughout the province in 2007 to obtain input on the report’s recommendations.

The working group believes that the “front-end loading” of processes and resources will encourage “early, affordable and just solutions.” The report also predicts a reduction in the number of motions, documents exchanged, examinations for discovery and experts.

In addition, the working group believes its recommendations will:

  • reduce the labour-intensiveness of the litigation process, thereby reducing the cost for the parties;
  • reduce the number of hours spent by counsel relearning the case after prolonged bouts of inactivity;
  • reduce the time spent on pleadings and amendments to pleadings;
  • identify key issues earlier, thereby saving time and money spent on extraneous issues; and
  • provide more opportunities to resolve disputes earlier, regardless of the dispute resolution process employed.

The Justice Review Task Force was established on the initiative of the Law Society of BC in March 2002 to identify a wide range of potential reform initiatives that could make BC’s justice system more responsive, accessible and efficient.

Prior to creating the Civil Justice Reform Working Group, the JRTF formed three other working groups. The Family Justice Reform Working Group released its final report, A New System for Families and Children, in June 2005 and the Street Crime Working Group issued its report, Beyond the Revolving Door: A New Response to Chronic Offenders, in October 2005. The Mega-Trials Working Group is expected to release its recommendations in the near future.