On Thursday January 23, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada
("SCC") issued two related decisions that may ultimately
go a long way to the possible extinction of the conventional civil
trial. In Hryniak v. Mauldin 2014 SCC 7 and the
companion case of Bruno Appliance & Furniture Inc. v.
Hryniak 2014 SCC 8, the SCC in unanimous 7 – 0
decisions, issued very strong statements supporting the principle
of proportionality which the Court confirmed was a touchstone for
access to civil justice in our country. The Court
resoundingly came down in favour of the summary adjudication of
disputes which provide an opportunity to simplify pre-trial
procedures and which move the emphasis away from conventional
trials given that they often are time consuming and far more
expensive for litigants. While focussing on the clear
benefits of the summary adjudication process, the Court also
confirmed that a fair and just result is still paramount but that
undue process and protracted trials with unnecessary expense and
delay can in fact prevent the fair and just resolution of
The two cases originated in Ontario and involved claims of civil
fraud. A group of investors had wired $1.2 million USD to an
individual which was then pooled with other funds and eventually
transferred to the individual's company. That company
subsequently transferred the pooled funds to an off-shore bank and
the money ultimately disappeared. The trial court, pursuant
to the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure, weighed the evidence,
evaluated credibility and drew inferences. In doing so, the
court concluded that a trial was not required and granted judgment
in favour of the investors. The Ontario Court of Appeal held
that the case was not an appropriate candidate for summary
adjudication but nonetheless dismissed the appeals.
The SCC began its unanimous decision in Mauldin, supra.
by stating :
"Ensuring access to justice
is the greatest challenge to the rule of law in Canada today.
Trials have become increasingly expensive and protracted.
Most Canadians cannot afford to sue when they are wronged or defend
themselves when they are sued and cannot afford to go to
an effective and accessible means of enforcing rights, the rule of
law is threatened. Without public adjudication of
civil cases, the development of the common law is stunted."
With that opening, it was clear the SCC was going to "send
a message" regarding the ability of litigants to seek swift
resolutions to their disputes so that access to justice is
maintained and not thwarted by lengthy pre-trial procedures, delay,
and lengthy conventional trials all which can be extremely costly
and prevent justice from being done. The SCC went so far as
to state that a "shift in culture" was required in order
to create an environment promoting timely and affordable access to
the civil justice system. The SCC did recognize and
acknowledge that not every civil case can be resolved short of a
conventional trial but as long as a fair and just adjudication can
occur, then a summary process ought to be followed given that the
best forum for resolving disputes is not always "that with the
most painstaking procedure". As such, it appears the
door may now be wide open to proceed by way of summary adjudication
in a wide range of civil disputes.
In B.C., the summary trial and summary judgment procedures have
been in place and utilized by our courts for many years.
Nevertheless, there have been many instances where the court simply
could not find the facts necessary to resolve matters on a summary
basis and therefore refused to grant judgment as a result.
However, it is likely that the B.C. courts will be even more
receptive to summary adjudications using these two recent SCC
decisions as further support for pushing the boundaries of what is
possible with the summary procedures that already exist. As
such, we expect to see a lot more cases being resolved without the
need for a conventional trial. This likely will improve
access to justice for all.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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