Report of the Chief Justice of Ontario Upon the Opening of the Courts of Ontario for 2005
Chief Justice R. Roy McMurtry
Welcome and Introduction
Chief Justices, colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, distinguished representatives of the bar, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to express the warmest of welcomes to everyone here this afternoon.
Je souhaite une bienvenue très chaleureuse à tous ceux qui sont venu assister à cet evenement si important dans la vie de notre province.
The opening of the courts represents, I believe, a unique opportunity to bring together members of the judiciary, bar, law enforcement, courts administrators and the public. Your presence here this afternoon is an important reminder of the crucial role played by the administration of justice as the vital and irreplaceable foundation of a democratic society.
I am very pleased, of course to be joined on the dais by Chief Justice Smith of the Superior Court of Justice and Chief Justice Lennox of the Ontario Court of Justice who preside over the largest trial courts in Canada.
I am also very pleased that we are joined today with so many of our colleagues from the Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, as well as a number of Masters, Small Claims Court judges, justices of the peace and legal and administrative staff from all of our courts and the Ministry of the Attorney General.
I would also like to recognize the presence this afternoon of those representing many important legal associations together with our special guests as follows:
I would like firstly to report on the work of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, followed by some brief general observations with respect to important initiatives related to the administration of justice in Ontario. My remarks will be followed by reports from Chief Justice Smith and Chief Justice Lennox in relation to their courts.
The Court of Appeal now consists of twenty full-time and three supernumerary judges.
The members of the court are very proud that our former colleagues Justice Charron and Justice Abella were appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in August. They both made a most distinguished contribution to the work of our court as they will to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justices Charron and Abella were replaced last month by Justice Jean McFarland and Justice Harry Laforme, whom we were all delighted to welcome to our court. Together they represent almost thirty years experience as outstanding trial judges and they will make a vital contribution to the work of our court in the months ahead.
The members of the court are also very proud that Associate Chief Justice Dennis O'Connor was selected by the government of Canada to head the most important Arrar Inquiry. Although we very much miss Chief Justice O'Connor's daily presence, we know, of course, that the citizens and government of Canada will be very well served by his efforts.
Workload of the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal continues to be by far the busiest appellate court in Canada. In the past year, over 1,000 appeals were heard. The appeals are becoming lengthier and significantly more complex. These appeals do not include motions and the many other matters related to the court that involve our judges. For example, the members of our court also are very active in educational seminars, judging moot courts, giving speeches and serving as advisors in relation to the administration of justice in developing nations.
Six years ago there were about 1,600 civil cases perfected and waiting to be heard. That figure has been reduced to approximately 250 as of today. The hearing of non-expedited civil appeals is now four to six months from perfection. The time frame relative to expedited appeals, family law related appeals and appeals delaying the progress of ongoing trials has been reduced to a period of about three months.
In criminal appeals the time between perfection and hearing has stabilized at four to five months. However, a substantial increase in the number of applications for leave to introduce fresh evidence continues to cause considerable delay in a growing number of appeals. I am also pleased to report that, absent exceptional circumstances, reserved judgments are released within a period of six months after argument. Given the seriousness and complexity of the cases which come before the court, the timely release of judgments is a credit to the hard work and dedication of the judges of our court.
Late last year the Minister of Justice directed a reference to this court to hear the appeal of Stephen Truscott. I have met with counsel for Mr. Truscott and the Attorney General for Ontario and have indicated to them that the court will be able to hear the appeal as soon as counsel are prepared to argue the matter. I am confident that counsel will co-operate so as to fast track any necessary processes required prior to the hearing of the appeal.
In the area of mediation, the initiatives developed by justices Weiler and Labrosse continue to result in successful pre-hearing mediations which produce both significant cost saving for the litigants in family law matters and a reduction of the emotional trauma which is so often regrettably a part of family law litigation.
The court is still concerned with the number of criminal appeals in which the appellant is unrepresented by counsel. Such cases carry with them additional administrative and judicial involvement to ensure fairness and a timely resolution. Our court continues to track and expedite all inmate appeals in which the sentence was less than two years. Similarly, the court and particularly Justice Marc Rosenberg has worked to create a duty counsel program so that unrepresented inmates will be provided with some legal assistance. We have received the full co-operation of Legal Aid Ontario and a number of criminal lawyers who, in the best tradition of the bar have volunteered their time to assist unrepresented inmates.
I am pleased to mention as well that under the auspices of Pro Bono Law Ontario and the Advocates' Society, a program has been developed to assist unrepresented litigants involved in civil appeals.
The recommendations of the committee headed by Justices Charron and Macpherson in criminal solicitor appeals that were implemented last year have resulted in criminal appeals being perfected and heard in a much more timely fashion. One of the significant causes of delay was the problem in obtaining a transcript within a reasonable time period. With the commitment and support of the Ministry of the Attorney General, a standard of 90 days was agreed upon for the completion of transcripts and that standard is now being met in most cases.
As a result of a further recommendation of the Charron Macpherson Committee the court has instituted both criminal and civil status courts which are focused on ensuring that the appeals are perfected and brought to hearing as quickly as is reasonably possible.
Last October, the Court of Appeal engaged in its second outreach program, travelling to Ottawa, Ontario for a two-day series of round tables, meetings, receptions and dinners with members of the judiciary, legal profession, court administrators and law school deans and law teachers in Ottawa and Eastern Ontario. The outreach was enthusiastically welcomed by our colleagues in Ottawa, Ontario and we plan to engage in our third outreach program in Sudbury in October of this year.
I would like to take this opportunity also to publicly thank all of my colleagues on the court for their continuing dedication to the resolution of appeals in a just and timely fashion and as well to thank the administrative, secretarial and legal staff for their continuing commitment and dedication to the work of our courts.
Ontario Justice Education Network
Last year, I detailed the inauguration of the Ontario Justice Education Network or OJEN and this year I would like to thank the hundreds of judges, crown attorneys, lawyers, legal aid representatives and others who continue to volunteer their time with the courtrooms and classrooms project throughout the province, giving tens of thousands of students and others the opportunity for an increased understanding of the administration of justice. Such initiatives also include law day programs, mock trials, and judge and lawyer shadowing by students and adopt a school programs that match lawyers to schools to serve as resources for law classes.
Exceptional leadership has been provided by Justices Fran Kiteley, Ted Ormston, Executive Director Taivi Lobu and many others.
In keeping with OJEN's efforts to ensure youth from the aboriginal, Francophone and immigrant communities are served by its programs, the OJEN network has welcomed new network partners including the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship s, L'association des juristes d'expression Française de l'ontario (AJEFO), and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI).
As one of the initiatives arising from the Toronto mayor's task force on community safety, OJEN has established an important collaboration with Toronto community housing corporation's youth programs. Courtroom & classrooms programs are now being developed in public housing communities with local judges, lawyers and youth workers.
2005 will mark the 20th anniversary of the section 15 equality rights provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This will serve as an important OJEN focus for the coming year, particularly with collaborative law day activity led by the Ontario Bar Association. With the theme of "the law: its importance to you," week-long law day celebrations will take place from April 11 to 14.
As a result of funds made possible by both Elizabeth Goldberg and the Law Foundation of Ontario, the Ontario Justice Network is now able to launch arts in the courts, with artwork from grade 5 students participating in the Legal Aid Ontario's law day poster contest being displayed in courthouses throughout Ontario.
I am also pleased to announce that the inaugural Chief Justices' Awards, recognizing exceptional contributions to promoting public understanding, education and dialogue in support of a responsive and inclusive justice system, will be awarded this year.
OJEN's new website has been launched as www.ojen.ca offering many resources to justice system volunteers, teachers and students.
As the chair of the Legal Education Network I would like to thank the Law Foundation of Ontario and the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their continued support of public legal education activity.
Pro Bono Law Ontario
Pro Bono Law Ontario continues to develop as a critical and major access to justice initiative. By organizing and supporting the pro bono efforts of law firms, law associations and legal clinics across the province, pblo continues to work to ensure that all aspects of the profession, private and public, are working together to address the unmet legal needs of Ontario's most vulnerable citizens.
PBLO's major supporters include Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Foundation of Ontario and the hundreds of lawyers who volunteer in PBLO projects.
For example, lawyers from the largest law firms to sole practitioners - are working with community legal clinics to address the unmet legal needs of children, the elderly, survivors of domestic abuse and new immigrants to name but a few groups benefiting from pro bono legal assistance.
The Child Advocacy Project, which provides education law services to children is spreading across southern and eastern Ontario. This project helps children access special education services guaranteed to them by law. It also advocates on behalf of young people who are unfairly disciplined pursuant to zero tolerance education policies. Recently, PBLO launched a designated representatives project that will provide advocacy services to unaccompanied minors entering Canada.
PBLO has also created a variety of programs that leverage the skills of solicitors, primarily around community economic development issues such as neighbourhood revitalisation, or providing business law services to low-income artists and artisans trying to attain self-sufficiency.
Since January 2002, PBLO has trained over 300 volunteer lawyers who have provided pro bono services to over 1,300 individuals and charitable organizations. 2004 will see the launch of more than a dozen new pro bono initiatives. Law firms are partnering with community organizations and speciality legal clinics in projects that will protect children's rights, defend HIV+ or disabled citizens from discrimination and help aboriginal artists earn a viable living. In communities from Windsor to Thunder Bay, law associations are working with community legal clinics to provide wills and powers of attorney to low-income elderly individuals.
I am pleased to chair the PBLO advisory board and I would like to thank the Law Foundation of Ontario for its significant financial support of Pro Bono Law Ontario.
Persons with Disabilities
Many people with disabilities are involved with the courts in various roles as litigants, witnesses, lawyers, jurors or as members of the public.
I am therefore pleased that the Ontario government is launching a major new initiative with its proposed accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities act (Bill 118). The purpose of the bill is to develop and implement accessibility standards within reasonable time lines so that persons with disabilities can more readily be accommodated.
The judiciary is determined to play its part and we look forward to working with the Ontario government and the bar in providing persons with disabilities better access to our justice facilities.
Some of our judges have already met with representatives of the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Chief Justices have agreed to designate a disability access and accommodation coordinator in each regional center.
A practice direction will be issued asking lawyers to let a court know if a party or witness needs accommodation, and potential jurors will be informed as to the availability of accommodation.
I also intend to establish a committee of representatives of the bench, bar, and the Ministry of the Attorney General to consider further steps that can be taken to more readily accommodate persons with disabilities.
Youth at Risk
Last year at the opening of the courts I repeated what I had stated on a number of previous occasions, that the administration of justice will never have more than a marginal impact on the causes of criminal behaviour. I went on to say that "the courts provide daily witness to the tragedies involving young people in particular as a result of their negative environments, lack of education and lack of opportunity."
Our new mayor of Toronto was apparently listening as last February he asked me to chair an advisory panel on community safety in Toronto, focusing on several discrete areas. Having spoken about "youth at risk" over many years, I felt an obligation to assist and the past nine months, as a result, have been an interesting adventure, to say the least. It has enabled me to bring together the school boards, community colleges and universities to address the fundamental challenges facing our youth. I believe that the three orders of government are also working together more effectively than for some time. Many other community bodies, including service agencies, labour unions and businesses have also come to the table.
The challenges are huge and require a concentrated and coordinated effort by all sections of our society. No one section of society by itself will ever be able to provide a social justice order based on caring, compassion and social justice. One reality in particular has become increasingly apparent to me, and that is the African theme, as popularized by Hillary Clinton that "it truly does take a village to raise a child." If we are to keep more young people out of the criminal justice system it is essential that we create a broader and deeper base of community support for our young people who are potentially at risk.
Many of our social ills are obviously related to poverty and while the poor and friendless may often appear to be out of political fashion they are never without human needs.
There is one overwhelming reality that I have learned since my call to the bar in 1958, and it is that the challenges facing the administration of justice in Ontario have grown hugely in the subsequent years. The increasing complexity simply reflects the development of an ever increasing complex society.
While I believe that the citizens of Ontario are very well served by the hundreds of men and women who discharge their daily responsibilities as judges with commitment, impartiality and fairness, all judges recognize that we must continue to strive to earn that confidence. The issues particularly related to access to justice and justice in a timely fashion will continue to demand the collective attention of the bar, government and the judiciary.