On November 27, 2006, the B.C. Civil Justice Reform Working Group of the Justice Review Task Force released a report titled Effective and Affordable Civil Justice. The report recommends fundamental change to British Columbia’s civil justice system, from the time a legal problem develops through the entire Supreme Court of British Columbia litigation process.
The Working Group is co-chaired by Chief Justice Donald Brenner of the Supreme Court and Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel. Its members include other judges and lawyers representing various stakeholders, including the Law Society of British Columbia and the Legal Services Society (legal aid).
The authors say that they "envision a civil justice system that assists citizens in obtaining just solutions to legal problems quickly and affordably." This vision is said to involve providing everyone, regardless of their means, with access to civil justice through two broad strategies: 1) providing integrated information and services to support those who want to resolve their legal problems on their own before entering the court system; and 2) 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 work of the Working Group was informed by five key principles:
preservation of the rule of law;
proportionality, which means that the amount of process will be proportional to the value, complexity and importance of the case;
flexibility and matching of the process to the dispute and the needs of the parties;
more active judicial involvement in the management and resolution of cases; and
an expanded role for lawyers in helping their clients arrive at just solutions for their legal problems.
The report makes three key recommendations:
introducing a "hub," a single place where people can go to get the information and services they need to solve legal problems on their own;
requiring parties to Supreme Court civil non-family actions to personally attend a case planning conference before they engage the system beyond initiating and responding to a claim; and
rewriting the Supreme Court Rules of Court.
The third recommendation incorporates a number of reforms, including:
Proportionality: An overriding objective that all proceedings are dealt with justly and pursuant to the principle of proportionality;
A new case initiation and defence process: Eliminating the writ of summons, statement of claim and statement of defence, and replacing them with a "Dispute Summary and Resolution Plan" which will state the facts and the issues in dispute, and provide a written plan for conducting the case and achieving a resolution;
Limits on both documentary and oral discovery:
i) Requiring the parties to produce only those documents referred to by a party, to which the producing party intends to refer at trial, or which are in the party’s control and could be used by any party at trial to prove or disprove a material fact,
ii) Elimination of interrogatories (answers to written questions prepared in the form of an affidavit),
iii) For cases valued at $100,000 or less, elimination of oral discovery without consent or leave of the court,
iv) For cases valued at greater than $100,000, limiting discovery by all parties adverse in interest to a maximum of one day, unless the parties consent, or the court grants leave, for more, and
v) Requiring the parties to exchange "will say" statements; and
Restrictions on expert evidence: Requiring a judge to provide directions, based upon proportionality, for the use of experts.
Some of these recommended reforms build on recently implemented reforms. For instance Rule 68, a pilot project in some court registries, applies to cases valued at $100,000 or less, explicitly recognizes the proportionality principle and limits oral and documentary discovery in a similar manner to that proposed by the Working Group. The other recommended reforms, such as the elimination of traditional pleadings and restrictions on expert evidence, are concepts unknown to the current Rules of Court.
Our dispute resolution team will continue to monitor and carefully review the efforts of the Working Group. If required, we also will provide our input on the proposed recasting of the Rules of Court. One concern is that the excellent features of the current system not be lost or impeded.
It is hard to predict whether any of these recommendations will be implemented, and, if so, when. However, it is apparent that there is a movement towards significant change in the civil justice system in this province. This suggests that there is a good chance that some or all of these recommendations, or similar ones, will come to fruition.
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