JUST Causes

  • April 01, 2014
  • David Sterns


You have probably heard the old joke about the weather. Everyone complains about it but nobody does anything about it. Well the same could be said about delays in our court system. That is, until recently.

Over the past six months, a committee of judges and bar representatives have been meeting to find solutions to the grinding delays affecting civil actions in Toronto and the surrounding regions. The Ontario Bar Association can take some credit for putting this issue on the court’s agenda and for playing an active role in finding solutions.

What kind of delays are we talking about? Consider that parties who had completed discoveries and set their action down for trial usually needed to wait two years or more for a “long trial” in Toronto. The definition of a long trial depended on whom you asked but, generally speaking, it was a trial that lasted three weeks or more. Wait times for “long motions” were also excessive.  For a half-day motion, parties often had to wait six months or longer. 

Delays are not new to the Toronto region by any means. But as delays inched ever longer, talk around the water cooler began to fix on whether civil courts in the Toronto region were stalled to the point of denying access to justice. Stories also began to appear in the Law Times about the effect that unreasonable delays were having on cases. Alternatives to court such as arbitration filled some of the void but also removed important, precedent-setting cases from the public sphere. 

At its fall Council meeting last year, the OBA cast the issue in stark relief by passing a resolution, put forward by the Civil Litigation section, declaring that “urgent corrective action” was needed on wait times for civil motions and long trials. 

All of this prompted a decisive response by the court. The Chief Justice of the Superior Court announced at the opening of the courts last fall that reducing civil delays was a top priority of the court. Justice Geoffrey B. Morawetz (now Regional Senior Justice of Toronto) was selected to head a committee of Toronto judges and bar representatives to meet and report back to the Chief Justice with solutions within a short timeframe.

I have had the privilege of representing the OBA on the Morawetz Committee. Working together with OBA members from different sections, we submitted a report outlining 10 practical steps to improve timely access to justice. These solutions included:

  • The introduction of on-demand light touch case management similar to the “9:30 appointments” currently available on the Commercial List;
  • Increasing the ability to bring motions in writing;
  • Imposing time limits on oral argument on motions; and
  • Allowing more flexibility in when parties can set an action down for trial.

RSJ Morawetz will release his report soon, and although the report is still being finalized, I am encouraged by the frank discussions that have taken place at the Committee meetings and the clear resolve of all participants to find lasting solutions. Some of the changes proposed in the report may require Rule changes or practice directions which will likely take a few more months. However, some practice changes have already been implemented (such as preventing parties from bringing “placeholder” motions and requiring non-Toronto related actions to be tried elsewhere) and are already shortening wait times.

If you have any questions about the Morawetz Committee or any suggestions on reducing court delays, I would be pleased to hear them.dsterns@sotosllp.com

David SternsAbout the Author

David Sterns is a partner at Sotos LLP in Toronto, nd a member of the Board of Directos of the OBA.dsterns@sotosllp.com.

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