Opening of the Courts
Remarks by Chief Justice Annemarie E. Bonkalo
September 14, 2010
Your Honour, Lieutenant Governor Onley, Chief Justices, Colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Madam Treasurer, members of the Bar, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I join Chief Justice Winkler and Chief Justice Smith in welcoming everyone here today. I am pleased to have this opportunity to comment on the work of the Ontario Court of Justice over the past year and on some of the issues facing the justice system.
Ontario is a vast province and each region has its own unique communities and challenges. Collectively in the past year, the Ontario Court of Justice received over 600,000 criminal charges, 2 million provincial offence and highway traffic charges, while over 25,000 families in crisis came through our family courts. Though the primary focus of the Ontario Court of Justice has always been on due process, fair trials and just outcomes, we also concerned ourselves with the related issues of accessibility, timeliness and service. Our service approach to the delivery of justice has led to a number of initiatives with others in the justice sector, to improve service to the public.
Justice on Target
With respect to our criminal law jurisdiction, the Ontario Court of Justice is deeply engaged in the collaborative process of developing and implementing local solutions for the Justice on Target initiative. The twin objectives of this initiative: reducing the number of appearances as well as the days to disposition are important and we are glad to actively participate to that end. Judges and justices of the peace from the Court sit on all of the local leadership teams as they, and other justice participants, work together to find ways to improve service to the public. I am grateful for the hard work and innovation of the many leadership teams across the province. I encourage everyone to continue their efforts to address all of the systemic issues causing delay.
Last year I announced that the Ontario Court of Justice would review the Court’s Criminal Rules of Practice. A draft of the rules will be widely distributed in the fall as we seek the advice of the Bar and members of the public before preparing the final draft. We look forward to your input.
Integrated Domestic Violence Court Pilot Project
In 2008, the Ontario Court of Justice began discussions with other justice participants to develop more integrated communication between the criminal and family courts for proceedings involving the same family. Subcommittees have examined various issues including order-sharing between the criminal and the family courts and the establishment of an integrated domestic violence court pilot project.
Four Pillars of Family Law
During the past year we have also been working with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Superior Court of Justice to develop and implement the Attorney General’s “Four Pillars of Family Law”. We have seen judges, Legal Aid Ontario, Ministry staff, lawyers, social workers, and other family law professionals come together to try to ensure that Ontario families in distress experience our courts in the least harmful way possible. Much has been accomplished in pursuit of this goal, particularly in Milton and Brampton. I am glad that these services have been recognized as essential for families in our court system and I am proud of the work that has been accomplished.
Family Court Scheduling and Best Practices Guide
Our Court has implemented other reforms in family law, such as the Ontario Court of Justice’s Family Court Scheduling and Best Practices Guide. Our family judges and my Advisory Committee on Family Law developed this document which promotes timely and effective justice. Already we are seeing improvements.
Child Protection Training Program
Next month, judiciary from the Ontario Court of Justice will be co-hosting a four-day, intensive Child Protection Training Program for young lawyers. This program is in response to the growing shortage in Ontario of child protection lawyers. Members of the Bar responded enthusiastically to this initiative and I thank them for assistance in development of the program.
Much time and energy was spent by members of the judiciary, together with staff at the Ministry of the Attorney General on planning for a pandemic. The close collaboration between the judiciary and the ministry in this process resulted in enhanced protocols and communications. All of the effort that went into mapping out contingency plans will stand us in good stead for the future. It was important and necessary work.
The information technology revolution continues to offer new opportunities to improve service, access to justice and transparency. We share the common goal with all the Ontario courts of ensuring that technology is used where it can improve processes and better serve the public, while preserving the integrity of the administration of justice.
The Ontario Court of Justice has welcomed the appointment of 10 new judges and 13 new justices of the peace this past year. Although a large number of outstanding justice of the peace vacancies remain, I am confident that they will soon be filled.
Sadly, this past year, we lost one of our judicial colleagues, the Honourable Karen Johnston. Karen sat throughout her judicial career in the Tri-County area of Central East Region. Karen was a well-loved and respected colleague, who had a remarkable 19 years of distinguished service to the Court and the people of Ontario.
An independent judiciary needs to be supported by an effective judicial administration. As a court, we have slowly but surely developed into an institution responsible for more and more of our own administration. With court sittings in almost 200 locations throughout the province, justice would be far less effective and efficient without a structure consisting of manageable units. Regional administration is crucial to responding to the different challenges and interests in carrying out justice in each community. Our regional senior judges and regional senior justices of the peace are the cornerstone of our administration. They are vital to the success of the court and I thank them for their dedication.
I owe special thanks to Associate Chief Justice Peter Griffiths and Associate Chief Justice John Payne. It would be impossible to carry out the administration of the Court without their hard work, support and friendship.
I take great pride in the Ontario Court of Justice and in the inherent value of the work of all of our judges and justices of the peace, as they serve the public with proficiency, diligence and dedication.
In closing, I wish to recognize the contribution of the dedicated people who work daily in the justice system and in courthouses throughout Ontario, whether they are Court Services staff, local police services, legal counsel or those from community service agencies.