Tort Litigation and Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Changing the Climate of Opinion

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, June 6, 2019.

Found online at: http://www.slaw.ca/2019/06/06/tort-litigation-and-greenhouse-gas-emissions-changing-the-climate-of-opinion/

Climate change is probably the single greatest threat to the security and prosperity of Canadians, as well as the rest of the human race. The most effective, least painful way to mitigate climate change is to impose a price on greenhouse gases worldwide, either through carbon taxes or tradable emission permits. However, carbon pricing is as politically difficult as it is economically efficient. In most countries, voters and political leaders have so far refused to support prices high enough to keep the risk of catastrophic climate change within an acceptable band. In Canada, there is also real risk that the federal carbon pricing backstop will be derailed on constitutional grounds. Continue reading

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers: Access to Civil Justice in Canada

(2013) Legal Ethics, Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 373-376.

‘Abysmal’ was the word used to describe the accessibility of Canadian civil justice in a recent major report. Access to justice is simultaneously a social problem, a professional obligation for the legal profession, and a market opportunity for law firms. Are there any signs of significant progress on any of these fronts? This short Correspondent’s report will review recent Canadian efforts to connect people of modest means with the expert legal services they urgently need.

Full text: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2385989

The Settlement-Seeking Judge: A Mock Trial

Fall 2013 (Published 2014), Journal of Dispute Resolution, Vol. 2013, No.2, pp. 301-329.

Judicial dispute resolution is common in family courts, where it usually consists of informal efforts to bring about settlement in pre-trial conferences. Many judges are especially eager to promote settlement in child custody and visitation (access) cases. This paper will critically evaluate informal JDR in parenting disputes, by asking whether and to what extent it is in the best interests of the children involved. It begins by identifying several features which distinguish custody and access disputes from other types of civil litigation, and which are relevant to the normative analysis of JDR in this context.

The paper then describes and evaluates three arguments which might be made against informal JDR in custody and access.  First, one might argue that there is too much settlement and not enough neutral adjudication of civil cases in general, or of parenting cases in particular. Second, one might applaud settlement in these cases but say that the efforts of the justice system to encourage it are ineffectual or inappropriate. Third, one might approve of settlement-seeking by the justice system in custody and access cases, but maintain that the system’s reliance on judges to do this work is mistaken.

The first two arguments can be rejected , but the author argues that the third has substantial merit. This paper will conclude by arguing that facilitative mediation by non-judges appears to have significant advantages over judicial settlement-seeking as a way to resolve custody and access cases without adjudication. Assigning settlement-seeking to facilitative non-judges could revitalize both settlement-seeking and adjudication in family court.

Online: Social Science Research Network, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1898629.

A version of this article also appears as a chapter in Tania Sourdin & Archie Zariski, eds., The Multi-Tasking Judge: Comparative Judicial Dispute Resolution.  Sydney: Thomson Reuters, 2013.

Mandatory Family Mediation and the Settlement Mission: A Feminist Critique

2012, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, Vol. 24, No. 2, pp. 207-239.

North American family law conflicts are very often brought to mediation, in which a neutral third party attempts to bring about a voluntary resolution of the spouses’ dispute.  Family mediation has many enthusiastic supporters, and has in many jurisdictions been made a mandatory precursor to traditional litigation.  However, it has also given rise to a potent feminist critique, which identifies power imbalance and domestic violence as sources of exploitation and unjust mediated outcomes. This article summarizes the feminist critique of family mediation, and assesses the efforts of contemporary mediation practice to respond to it.  Even in the absence of formal family mediation, litigating spouses are likely to be subjected to substantial informal pressure to settle from judges and other family justice system workers.  The article argues that the feminist critique might be more relevant to this “settlement mission” than it is to formal family mediation as it is practiced today.

Download from SSRN

Judicial Settlement-Seeking in Parenting Disputes: Consensus and Controversy

(2012) Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 309-332

The judicial role in child custody and visitation disputes has traditionally been understood as one of authoritative decision-making. However this new empirical research suggests that many family court judges prioritize the pursuit of voluntary settlement in pre-trial conferences, using evaluative and facilitative mediation techniques. Drawing on qualitative interviews with judges and other family law professionals in Toronto and New York City, this article identifies points of consensus and controversy among settlement-seeking family judges. Despite the general support for settlement-seeking, there are substantial differences of opinion regarding coercion, due process, and the meaning of the best interests of the child standard.

Online: SSRN, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1687268

Whose Best Interests?

(2010) Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 287-336 (Peer-reviewed).

This article compares the law of custody and access disputes with the procedure used to resolve them. I argue that there is a fundamental contradiction between these two things. The former focuses on the interests of the children involved to the exclusion of all else. The latter, however, is controlled by and designed to protect the rights and interests of the adult parties to the dispute. Despite their doctrinal centrality in custody and access law, children are usually silent and invisible in custody and access procedure. To resolve this contradiction, I propose a focus on the costs and benefits of parenting litigation for the children involved. Too much parenting litigation occurs which has more costs than benefits for them. We should curtail some of these cases, and apply the proportionality principle to others. Finally, these children should have a stronger voice when decisions are being made about their future.

Download Paper from SSRN

Whose Best Interests? from Noel Semple on Vimeo.

A brief video presentation based on this paper.

The Silent Child

(2010) Canadian Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 1-25.

There are two possible forms of evidence in a custody or access (visitation) case which is determined through adjudication. First, the judge may hear from the adult parties and the witnesses whom they choose to call. Second, the judge may hear “children’s evidence,” which comes either directly from the child, or from a neutral professional with child-related expertise. To assess the prevalence of children’s evidence in Canadian custody and access litigation, the author conducted a quantitative survey of 181 reported decisions from 2009. The central finding was that only 45% mentioned any form of children’s evidence. Among the various varieties of children’s evidence, assessments (also known as child custody evaluations) were much more common than legal representation of children or direct evidence from children. The paper concludes by contrasting the primacy of the child in custody and access doctrine with the reality that the children involved appear to be effectively silent in the majority of the adjudicated cases.

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The Eye of the Beholder: Professional Opinions about the Best Interests of a Child

(2011) Family Court Review, Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 760-775 (Peer-reviewed).

Full text online, SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1327485

This paper is is based on my LL.M thesis, which I successfully defended on June 10, 2009.  The Below, please find short and long versions of the thesis, as well as a 15 minute video presentation.

The Eye of the Beholder from Noel Semple on Vimeo.

Thesis (30k words)

Short Version (8500 words)

For an even shorter description, please click here: Continue reading

Judicial Review in the Federal Courts: A How-To Guide.

with Freya Kristjanson, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP.

Prepared for the Ontario Legal Clinics Conference, this is a summary of the procedure and substance of Federal Court judicial review of administrative decisions. This paper was written with a legal clinic audience in mind, and pays particular attention to the federally-reviewed tribunals which clinic workers are most likely to deal with.

Judicial Review in the Federal Courts: A How-To Guide

The Case for Tribunal Standing in Canada

(2007) Canadian Journal of Administrative Law and Practice, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp. 305-323.

“Judicial Review” means a court reviewing a decision made by an administrative tribunal. When judicial review occurs, should the tribunal be allowed to send a lawyer to court to defend its decision? I think it generally should, and this article explains why.

Found online here: The Case for Tribunal Standing in Canada

Cited by the Alberta Court of Appeal in Leon’s Furniture Limited v Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner), 2011 ABCA 94, at para 25.