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NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
2009AG0004-000082

July 7, 2009

Ministry of Attorney General

 

 

NEW CIVIL RULES PROMOTE ACCESS TO JUSTICE

 

VICTORIA – New civil and family justice reforms introduced today will lower costs and increase access to B.C.’s justice system for the average citizen by making it easier to use the courts and resolve legal disputes, Attorney General Michael de Jong, QC, has announced.

 

“Justice needs to be affordable if it’s going to work for British Columbians. Modernizing the rules is a critical step in serving those who rely on the justice system for expedient and fair justice,” said de Jong. “The new civil and family rules have been adopted by the Province and will be fully implemented July 1, 2010.”

 

Under the new civil and family rules, the Province will provide up to three days of trial time before litigants are required to pay court fees. Current fees start at $156 for a half day or less. To encourage the use of mediation, court fees for filing or responding to a legal claim will be eliminated for parties that engage in mediation prior to commencing a civil action.

 

“Government’s endorsement of the new civil and family rules and fees is a significant step forward in making the justice system more accessible and affordable,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner. “We drew on the extensive knowledge and professional expertise of many seasoned members of the judiciary, private bar and policy analysts to develop new rules. Making these changes is absolutely the right thing to do for the people who rely on the justice system to resolve disputes.”

 

“The seeds for today’s reforms were planted seven years ago when the B.C. Justice Review Task Force began its work,” said former Attorney General Geoff Plant, QC. “Lengthy public consultations within the justice system and with the public have produced new civil and family rules which will improve access to justice for British Columbians.”

 

Additional reforms include changes to rules used by B.C.’s civil courts to speed up, simplify and lower the cost of resolving disputes. These include:

·        Containing legal processes so that they are proportionate to the value, importance and complexity of the case.

·        Limiting the sometimes excessive questioning of parties, called oral examinations for discovery.

·        Limiting the costly exchange of documents that are not directly relevant to a case.

·        Allowing parties the option of having a judge set time limits on litigation events.


 

 

 

·        Providing a new fast track process that greatly simplifies procedures when the amount in dispute is $100,000 or less or when the case can be tried in three days or less.

·        Providing new family rules for minimizing family conflict, promoting co-operation and ensuring that the interests of children are paramount.

 

“We heard from all sides of this issue, and like other jurisdictions that are wrestling with similar problems, we are taking action,” said Wally Oppal, QC, former Attorney General. “The new civil and family rules put the public’s interests first by responding to their concerns about the cost and timeliness of civil justice.”

 

In 2004, the B.C. Justice Review Task Force created civil and family justice reform working groups to research and make recommendations for procedural reforms. The working groups included members of the private bar, judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the deputy attorney general, policy analysts and others. Broad consultations were carried out on the proposed rules.

 

“It is clear that the status quo is not an option – reform and change are necessary,”

said William Everett, QC, chair of the B.C. Justice Review Task Force. “What has been produced was achieved through a very broad, inclusive review and consultation process and I believe the new rules pave the way to a better civil justice system in B.C."

 

British Columbia is reforming the civil and family justice system as part of its justice reform initiative. The new rules can be viewed at: http://www.bcjusticereviewforum.ca/

 

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Contact:           Shawn Robins

                                    Ministry of Attorney General

                                    250 387-4965

                                    250 812-3259 (cell)


 

 

 

 

For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at www.gov.bc.ca.

 


 

BACKGROUNDER

 

 

July 7, 2007

Ministry of Attorney General

 

INCREASING ACCESS TO JUSTICE

 

We are privileged to live in a country firmly backed by the rule of law through an independent, highly skilled judiciary and a top-notch bar. We cannot, however, ignore the fact that resolving a dispute has become unaffordable for most British Columbians. Many family and civil disputes are abandoned or compromised because the litigants cannot afford to pursue them in court. The spiralling cost is caused by slow, complex and unnecessary court processes that are required or allowed by the current court rules.

 

·        The new court rules address these issues through the following measures:

 

Simplified initiation process

A simplified case initiation and response process, eliminating the filing of multiple documents.

 

Proportionality

The object of the rules is to secure a just, speedy and inexpensive resolution on the merits of the case. That includes conducting the proceedings in ways that are proportionate to the financial amount involved in the proceeding, the importance of the issues in dispute and the proceeding’s complexity.

 

Discovery

Unless the parties agree or the court otherwise orders, the new rules allow a maximum of seven hours of questioning in oral discovery. Under the current rules, a litigant can be questioned for days. Further, the current rules require the exchange of documents that in any way relate to the action, even if they are not relevant to the case. The new rules require parties to exchange only those documents that could be used to prove or disprove a material fact at trial.

 

Case planning

If a case is progressing as it should, no planning or conferences are required. But if a party finds that a case is moving too slowly or is filled with unnecessary legal processes, the party may obtain the assistance of a judge or master to set out a clear plan for what is going to happen in a case and when it will happen, including the trial date. This will be especially important for financially weaker parties.

 

Experts

The rules provide many improvements on the use of expensive experts. They provide that an expert’s duty is to assist the court and not to advocate for any party. Reports will be exchanged earlier and will contain more specific information. In appropriate circumstances, a judge may order that opposing experts confer prior to trial to help focus the technical issues in dispute. In suitable cases, a process is set out to use a single joint expert, instead of duelling experts.


 

 

 

New fast track rule

The new fast track rule provides a single simplified and fast procedure when the amount in controversy is $100,000 or less or when the trial of the action can be completed in three days or less.

 

Cost of trials

Under the new civil and family rules, the Province will provide up to three days of trial time before litigants are required to pay court fees. Current fees start with $156 for a half day or less. In addition, to encourage the use of mediation, the fees for filing or responding to a claim will be eliminated for parties who mediate prior to commencing a civil action. 

 

Reorganized structure

A reorganized structure will allow for a more logical and chronological flow of the court rules, along with new, simplified terminology to update the rules to modern standards.

 

·        Highlights of the new family rules include:

 

A single set of rules for family cases

There will be a separate set of Supreme Court rules that apply to most family cases. Previously, family rules were a complex combination of general civil rules and specific family rules.

 

User friendly forms

The forms have been completely revised to make them more user-friendly, easier to understand and to fill out.

 

Terminology and clarity

The new family rules use plainer, more readable language.

 

Family specific objectives and proportionality

The objective of the Supreme Court Family Rules reflects the values of the Family Justice Reform Working Group (FJRWG) report and provide that the objective of the family rules is to help families resolve the legal issues that arise from family break-up fairly and in a way that will minimize conflict, promote co-operation between the parties and take into account the impact that the conduct of the case may have on a child.

 

In the family law context, proportionality is defined as conducting the case in ways that are proportionate to the court’s assessment of the needs and interests of any child affected, the family's financial resources, the complexity of the case and

the importance of the issues in dispute to the law applicable to British Columbia.

 

Judicial Case Conference

The existing judicial case conference (JCC) remains a key feature of the rules, with additional powers being given to the court to refer parties to a family justice counsellor child support clerk or parenting after separation program.

 

 

Discovery in family cases

The family rules have new limits on document production and oral exams for discovery, similar to the civil rules.

 

Experts in family cases.

The key change with respect to experts is that if a party wishes to present expert evidence on a “financial issue” in a family law case, the parties must appoint a single joint expert. 

 

Costs

The rules on the recovery of costs have been simplified. 

 

·        Consultation

 

In addition to more than 50 consultation meetings conducted around the province by B.C. Deputy Attorney General Allan Seckel, QC, and B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner, focus groups on the proposed rules were held with lawyers from various areas of practice in five cities and an online forum was created to allow members of the bar and the public to provide feedback.

 

·        Other jurisdictions

 

B.C.’s proposed rules are consistent with civil justice reforms around the world. The United Kingdom, which introduced the rules currently in use in B.C. during the 1800s, has long ago abandoned them. The U.K. instituted complete reform of its civil rules in 1999. Ontario, Nova Scotia and the Yukon recently followed suit.

 

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Contact:

 

Shawn Robins

Ministry of Attorney General

250 387-4965

250 812-3259 (cell)

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

BACKGROUNDER

 

July 7, 2007

Ministry of Attorney General

 

VANCOUVER JUSTICE ACCESS CENTRE

 

The goal of the justice access centres is to provide a single location where people can benefit from a range of legal information, advice, mediation, and other services and guidance that will help them resolve their justice problems. The focus is on solving problems early through out-of-court settlements. But, if clients do wind up in court, they will be better prepared.

 

Staff in the centre work with clients to look beyond the dispute at hand to consider how their problem can be solved. Rather than just looking to the court for an answer, there will be a focus on looking at problems more broadly and being open to a wider range of possible solutions.

 

The first justice access centre opened in Nanaimo in late October 2008, to test a more integrated approach to helping clients reach early and affordable solutions to their legal problems. The centre helps clients address justice problems they are experiencing with separation and divorce, debt, income assistance, consumer issues, housing and other civil or family law matters. The Nanaimo Justice Access Centre is a partnership between the Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Services Society.

 

A second justice access centre is being developed for Vancouver. The centre is currently focusing on family justice matters and services, which include: information and self help; family client needs assessment and referrals to other agencies; family dispute resolution, including mediation and limited legal advice. Services are either delivered on site by centre staff, service providers located at the centre or through referrals to service providers in the community. This justice access centre is being led by the Ministry of Attorney General. Work is underway to determine how to expand the services to include supports for civil justice matters. 

 

The Vancouver Justice Access Centre is located at Vancouver Law Courts, Robson Square, 290 - 800 Hornby St.

 

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Contact:

 

Shawn Robins

Ministry of Attorney General

250 387-4965

250 812-3259 (cell)