Annual Report of the Supreme Court of British Columbia: the Court’s Condition Before COVID-19

With the main trial court in the province, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, all but shut down by COVID-19, it is informative to review the official report of the Court on its operations in 2019, which was issued on March 30: the Annual Report of 2019.  That report shows that the Court was already struggling to meet the demands upon it before COVID-19.  

As a first point, the Court was understaffed.  As of December 31, the court was short 9 judges, 10% of its statutory complement.  To make matters worse, the number of judges had not been increased since 2010, even though the population of the province had grown by more than 14% and proceedings filed were up 33%.  To add to these difficulties, there was an increase in long trials. An historically high number of trials had to be adjourned (“bumped”) for lack of judges. 

The report also discloses the slow progress of the court in moving to digital filing. More  than half of court filings are still paper (44% are electronic) although electronic filing has been available since 2008. 

Most people in judging the operations of the Court focus on the conduct of trials, but in civil matters, only a tiny fraction of proceedings end in a trial: 490 civil trials with more than 69,000 civil proceedings filed.   So for almost everyone a trial is not the forum where their dispute is resolved. For almost all parties the Court is the true “alternate dispute resolution”: the fall-back process, while everyone’s first choice is negotiation, mediation or some other less expensive, less stressful, and more timely procedure.  

Many lawyers and judges have argued in this vein for years and have pushed for reform.  The former Chief Justice of Canada has called again for systemic change.  The arguments to make those reforms are not present in the Annual Report, but many of the facts are. 

The progress made in 2019 towards such reform is not discussed.  The government’s ambitious plans to effect a digital transformation of the Court Court Digital Transformation Strategy 2019-23 are not even mentioned.  With the COVID-19 shutdowns, this strategy now needs wholesale revision and acceleration.

In the meantime, the government has developed the Civil Justice Tribunal, which minimizes the role of adjudication and focuses on the needs of litigants for  simpler, faster, less expensive dispute resolution.  

For car accidents occurring after April 1 2019, claims arising from those accidents of a value up to $50,000 have been assigned to be heard by the Civil Resolution Tribunal.  It is perhaps too early to note changes in the court’s workload from this change, but that change is underway. On February 6, 2020, the government announced that they intend to move almost all motor vehicle litigation out of the court and into the Civil Resolution Tribunal, effective May 2021.

There is no discussion of these major changes of jurisdiction (see ICBC plan) in the 2019 Annual Report.  The impact however on the workload of the court will be significant, with perhaps 25% of the workload of the court removed. 

Even with these changes, which reduce the volume of litigation before the Court, the ability of the court to sufficiently respond without substantial reform remains in question.

The traditions of the Courts in British Columbia bear favourable comparison with courts anywhere. Integrity, respect for the parties, and adherence to legal principles of adjudication which have characterized our courts are qualities of profound importance. The changes that we need to make cannot jeopardize our adherence to those qualities. 

What changes will come for the Court in the coming year are truly unclear, but there can be no doubt that the Annual Report for2020 will be very different. 

Court reform will be the subject of further posts in the coming months. The present needs for court reform are more urgent and serious than they have been at any prior time.

What we can learn from Texas Family Court to Conduct Zoom Proceedings

What we can learn from Texas Family Court to Conduct Zoom Proceedings

A lot. Here are some links to what the courts in Texas are doing to meet the physical shutdown of the courts due to the Corona virus.

They are proceeding with some full hearings with witnesses using Zoom sessions hosted by the Court, and they are maintaining the open public hearing nature of the proceedings by streaming to YouTube.

Here is a link to TV coverage of what they are doing:

This is a resource page on how to make Zoom Court proceedings work which is very good:

Here is a link to a recording of two judges and a senior family law lawyer about what they are doing to conduct urgent matters. I would suggest getting a coffee and watching it.

Stay healthy.

We are all in this together.

Bill MacLeod…

How to Present Applications to Court When the Physical Court is Shut Down

How to Present Applications to Court When the Physical Court is Shut Down

Recent Experience with Conducting an Electronic Trial Using “CaseLines” Technology

-MacleodLaw in collaboration with Kate Gower of Gower Modern

Our experience conducting an electronic trial using the English cloud-based software CaseLines was quite positive as posted in detail here on our blog. Our trial using this software was the first to use it in North America, although it is very well established in the United Kingdom. It allowed the successful adjudication of a complicated trust and professional negligence action which otherwise would have been extremely difficult to manage due to the complexity of the issues and the volume of the material considered by the Court.

The savings to the parties from the use of this software were on the order of 25% of what a normal trial would have cost due to the savings in time at trial in handling documents and in the savings in preparation of binders of paper documents for use by the parties.

With current court shut-downs from the Corona-virus pandemic the advantages of the CaseLines software in allowing more efficient electronic based hearings may be of great assistance to all parties and the court. The use of video software such as Skype or Zoom plus software such as CaseLines is allowing the Courts in the UK to proceed with a wider variety of proceedings than are currently feasible in British Columbia. Now is the time for all good litigators to come to the aid of their clients by asking the courts to make use of these tools to allow access to justice even in these difficult times. See reference.

About CaseLines:

CaseLines is the most advanced system in the world for digital evidence management and court presentation. The system is used in the UK Supreme Court, Civil and Public Law cases and in the Crown Court Digital Case System across England. CaseLines now holds in excess of 45 million pages of evidence in the cloud, and is used daily by over 20,000 users, including more than 1,000 members of the judiciary.