Justice Denied: Constitutional Remedies for Systemic Delay

Slaw.ca Access to Justice Column, December 14 2022

Found Online at https://www.slaw.ca/2022/12/14/justice-denied-constitutional-remedies-for-systemic-delay/

Justice Delayed

Suppose you run a small widget-making business in Ontario. You sent crates of widgets worth $100k to a customer, but they refuse to pay. They say there’s something wrong with the widgets, but you know this isn’t true and you can prove it. The good news is that contract law obliges your customer to pay you, and procedural law allows you to seize their assets to satisfy the debt if they don’t. The bad news is that, if you sue and the other side plays hardball, it will probably take at least four or five years to get the matter to trial. By that point, the mounting toll of wasted hours and legal fees may well have led you to abandon your claim, or settle it for pennies on the dollar. If you do persevere, there’s a good chance your defendant will have disappeared or gone bankrupt by the time you get your judgment.

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Civil Procedure and Practice in Ontario, Vol. 2

I’m delighted to announce that the updated 2022 edition of Civil Procedure & Practice in Ontario is now live at https://www.canlii.org/en/commentary/81787.

We are also grateful to our publishers CanLII, and in particular the team of Sarah Sutherland, Alex Tsang, and Alicia Lazear.  Assistant Editor Sheldon Leung and our Windsor Law editorial team (introduced below) were essential to the success of this project. 

What Makes a Settlement “Bad”? Harvey Weinstein, Jeremy Diamond, and the Limits of Private Resolutions

Slaw.ca Legal Civil Procedure Columm, October 18, 2022

Found online at: https://www.slaw.ca/2022/10/18/what-makes-a-settlement-bad-harvey-weinstein-jeremy-diamond-and-the-limits-of-private-resolutions/

“A bad settlement is better than a good trial.” Every year, I pass along this old lawyer saying to students in my Civil Procedure and Legal Ethics classes. The idea is that pushing on to a hearing is expensive, risky, and time-consuming. Even a far-from-ideal settlement might be better overall.

Thus, lawyers must “advise and encourage” clients to settle their disputes so long as there is a “reasonable basis” to do so, according to the Rules of Professional Conduct. Courts and tribunals strongly encourage settlement with mandatory mediation, cost incentives to settle, and judicial pretrials among other mechanisms.

Of course, I hasten to add in class, bad settlements are not always better than the alternative. What can make a settlement bad enough that lawyers, legislators, and judges should refuse to accept it?

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Online and In-Person Hearings: The Best of Both Worlds

Slaw.ca Civil Procedure Column, June 9, 2022

Found online at: https://www.slaw.ca/2022/06/09/online-and-in-person-hearings-the-best-of-both-worlds/

For a while during the pandemic, online hearings were the only option for courts and tribunals. Justice was done on Zoom, or else it wasn’t done at all.

Now, as we emerge from the age of Covid (knock on wood!), online vs. in-person is a recurring controversy across Ontario’s justice sector. After the Superior Court of Justice ordered most contested family law matters to return to court, a group of family bar lawyers organized in defence of the online option. By contrast, the Landlord and Tenant Board is insisting on fully online practice, while the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario states that “going digital has been a failure” and calls for a return to in-person hearings. The online vs in-person controversy is also litigated on a case-by-case basis. For many civil trials, in the absence of party consent an expensive procedural motion may be necessary to resolve the question of online vs. in-person.

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Justice at Tribunals: At the Government’s Whim

Slaw.ca Access to Justice Column, April 7, 2022

Found online at: https://www.slaw.ca/2022/04/07/justice-in-tribunals-at-the-governments-whim/

Suppose that “JM” is a Canadian person, who believes that their legal rights have been infringed. The problem might have arisen at work, at home, with a corporation, or with some part of the government. JM has tried to resolve the matter privately with the other side, but got nowhere. Next, JM did some online research and perhaps spoke to a lawyer. It turns out there is a public body that’s supposed to make decisions, and uphold rights, in disputes like JM’s.

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Justice in Your Neighbourhood?

Slaw.ca Access to Justice Column, December 22, 2021

Found online at: http://www.slaw.ca/2021/12/22/justice-in-your-neighbourhood/

I live in Etobicoke, Toronto’s western suburb. We used to have our own courts, right here in the west end. There were family and criminal courts at 40 East Mall, and a Landlord Tenant Board outpost on Dundas Street West. Just over the Humber River, in the original City of Toronto, there was a Small Claims Court on Keele Street (pictured above). People asserting civil rights, or facing criminal charges, could visit a courthouse in their own community.

Nowadays, there isn’t a single physical court or tribunal of any kind in Etobicoke.

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Standards, Rules, and Law’s Quest for Certainty

Slaw.ca Access to Justice Column, June 11, 2021

Found online at: http://www.slaw.ca/2021/06/11/standards-rules-and-laws-quest-for-certainty/

Law should be drafted in a way that prevents litigation. Statutes, regulations, and precedents should ideally let people predict the decisions that legal authorities would make, if presented with certain facts. If the “shadow of the law” is sharp and clear, then people can avoid and resolve disputes instead of spending time and money litigating over them.

Often, however, it is difficult to create law that both keeps people out of court, and ensures that the resolutions they reach out of court are fair and just.

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The Accountability Gap and The Struggles of Our Civil Justice System

Slaw.ca Legal Ethics Column, April 22, 2021

Found online at: https://www.slaw.ca/2021/04/22/the-accountability-gap-and-the-struggles-of-our-civil-justice-system/

Conflict management systems are increasingly common within large corporations and other organizations. Workplace interpersonal disputes and bad behaviour are inevitable, but also manageable. Interests can be reconciled, rights can be upheld, and peace can be restored. A conflict management system is built to do exactly that.

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Justice Delayed and Denied in Ontario’s Tribunals

Slaw.ca Access to Justice Column, February 16, 2021

Found online at: https://www.slaw.ca/2021/02/16/justice-delayed-and-denied-in-ontarios-tribunals/

Widespread distrust of government helped Donald Trump bring the United States to its knees. Only 17% of Americans trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time in 2019, down from over 70% in the 1960s. People who lack any confidence in government tend to be receptive to anti-government populist messages.

The best way to preserve public trust in government is to ensure, as much as possible, that government acts in a trustworthy way. What does this have to do with Ontario’s administrative tribunals?

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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