REMARKS OF CHIEF JUSTICE HEATHER SMITH
SUPERIOR COURT OF JUSTICE
OPENING OF THE COURTS
TORONTO, SEPTEMBER 13, 2016
- Chief Justices
- Judicial colleagues – all
- Mr. Attorney
- Michael Morris, on behalf of the Minister of Justice
- Members of the Bar, paralegals
- Distinguished guests.
Je vous souhaite, à tous et à toutes, la bienvenue à I’occasion du début de cette nouvelle année judiciaire. It is my pleasure, once again, to join with the justice community in the Opening of the Courts ceremony.
This year, unlike most other years, the Superior Court of Justice’s executive has no new faces. Our Associate Chief Justice, our Senior Family Judge and all our Regional Senior Judges have continued to effectively manage our court and provide their excellent advice to me.
Our justice partners, however, do have new leaders: new Attorney General of Canada, Jody Wilson-Raybould; new Attorney General for Ontario, Yasir Naqvi; new ADAG of Court Services Division, Sheila Bristo; and new Treasurer of the Law Society, Paul Schabas. I want to extend my best wishes to each of them for successful terms in their respective new positions. Our court looks forward to working with them on the numerous important issues that face the justice system in Ontario, going forward.
Over the past year, the Superior Court concluded the initiatives we started in the years before and we have kept the promises I made here one year ago. We finalized and implemented our “best practices” in all areas of the court’s work – family, child protection, civil and criminal – to improve the effectiveness of judicial scheduling and judicial case management. The Superior Court issued a series of new Practice Directions, to ensure the bar and litigants would do their part to adhere to these best practices.
This year, we believe we delivered a more accessible and efficient court system. We also prided ourselves on our capacity to act quickly when the legal landscape shifted – as it so often does. One of these seminal shifts came when the Supreme Court of Canada extended the government’s time to pass new legislation for physician assisted death. As part of that decision, the Supreme Court said that a party could apply to provincial superior courts for an order authorizing a physician assisted death.
Led by a few very experienced judges, our court swiftly drafted a Practice Advisory to guide lawyers and parties through the court application process for such orders. Courts across the country looked to our court’s initiative in crafting their own practices that followed. As we expected, not everyone agreed with every aspect of our Advisory, but we received real praise for our leadership on this important issue. I was also extremely proud of how responsive our judges were in quickly hearing 13 urgent applications, each within 7 days. Then, they rendered the most thoughtful and prompt reasons for their decisions, within 24 hours in each case.
In partnership with CLEO [Community Legal Education Ontario], we produced a wonderful, plain language, bilingual guide to Superior Court family proceedings for self-represented Family litigants.
Again, with Family litigants in mind, the Superior Court, the Ontario Court and the Ontario Attorney General have all indicated unqualified support to pursue Unified Family Court expansion, afresh. I understand that we also have the federal Minister’s support, which is essential. Over the past several months, the two trial courts have collaborated to identify all sites that will allow immediate expansion of the Family Court, and the judicial complement to support them. The ultimate goal is a fully resourced UFC site at every Superior Court location throughout the province, by 2025.
On a different note, the past year’s efforts to maximize our court’s scheduling efficiencies have been successful. We worked diligently to strike the right balance between the exigencies of scheduling criminal cases and scheduling family cases. We also remained vigilant to assign appropriate judicial resources to important and urgent civil matters.
Then, in July, the legal landscape changed once more. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the R. v. Jordan revised the constitutional timelines required to complete trials in criminal cases. The Jordan timelines must be met, and the Superior Court of Justice embraces this challenge. We have already begun re-examining and refining everything within our own authority to meet the new timelines. In the short term, the court must accommodate new s.11(b) applications that may be brought. On September 1st, the Court enacted a new practice direction to ensure that these applications are scheduled and conducted fairly and effectively by (i) clarifying what supporting materials are required for these applications; and, (ii) requiring that all such applications be heard at least 60 days in advance of the trial. In the longer term, the court must dedicate the significant judicial resources needed to proactively monitor and manage complex criminal cases, to ensure they meet the new timelines.
How will we meet the challenge of completing criminal trials within the timelines mandated in the Jordan case?
First and foremost, we cannot meet the Jordan requirements without a full judicial complement. I thank the Minister of Justice for the five excellent and most welcome judicial appointments to our court that were made in June of this year. In spite of those appointments, we presently have 10 vacancies, half of which are here in Toronto. One of our judicial vacancies has existed for 18 months. Respectfully, I must continue to press the Minister of Justice, to fill our court’s current judicial vacancies, and to fill new vacancies promptly when they arise.
We must also have modern court administration and modern courtrooms. And, here, I turn to you Mr. Attorney. We urgently need the technology that can expedite the administrative and “in-court” steps in all areas of the court’s work. Our judges are encouraged, however, by your recent strong public commitment to improve court technology.
If judges and registrars could access case management information in the courtroom; if judges could issue signed orders from the courtroom; if judges and the Bar could access legal research with Wi-Fi from the courtroom; if reliable teleconferencing and videoconferencing were available in principal courtrooms; if all of these tools were available to our judges across the province, I am certain we would generate efficiencies to consistently meet tighter timelines.
Perhaps we were prescient, or perhaps just lucky, when our court began to seriously examine its modernization needs almost one year ago. We formed a judicial Modernization Committee to examine the court’s modernization needs and to meet with the ADAG of the Ministry’s Court Services Division to press those necessities. The Ministry has a new Modernization Division, headed by ADAG Lynn Norris, and Court Services Division has a modernization plan. Its plans for court technology have great promise, but the pace of delivery is simply far too slow! In the wake of the Jordan case, I strongly urge you, Mr. Attorney, to greatly hasten the pace.
The court will work with the all of its justice system partners to find new ways to reduce the time required for each step in a criminal case. Both the Crown and defence have a role to play in ensuring the timely disposition of criminal cases. In a world of finite resources, Crown counsel have a particularly important role to play. The Crown has wide discretion to decide which cases and which charges will be pursued; whether they will proceed by indictment or summary conviction; how those cases will be prosecuted; and how they are prioritized. I am confident that the federal Justice Minister and the Ontario Attorney General will ensure their Crowns have the resources and the support they need to discharge this difficult, but absolutely critical responsibility.
The Superior Court will meet every new challenge presented. We must! As Chief Justice, I am so fortunate to have the solid support of the Court’s executive to help steer timely responses to these challenges. I am also grateful for the dedication demonstrated by every judge on this court in their efforts to meet the workload and to serve the public. Here, I pause to tell you just a brief anecdote.
On a hot Saturday in August, the computer server for the Brampton Courthouse inadvertently crashed, with abysmal consequences for three Superior Court judges who had been drafting jury charges in their courthouse chambers that day. I know those judges were enormously and justifiably frustrated. Nonetheless, on that beautiful summer weekend, they just rolled up their sleeves a little higher, and completed (or entirely re-wrote) their jury charges by long hand.
In tackling each new and difficult issue that arises, I become more heartened by the true partnerships that our justice sector counterparts continue to forge with us. Some challenges are so complex – and the consequences of failing to address them are so great – that they must be met through sustained, committed and collaborative effort across the justice system. Remarkably, this is exactly what is occurring, as the entire justice sector, together with Canadian institutions, move to address the hardships and injustices suffered by our indigenous peoples.
The Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, has repeatedly stated that reconciliation between Canada’s indigenous population and other Canadians is one of the most pressing issues that the justice system will face in the decades to come.
The Prime Minister has committed to bringing indigenous people into all government conversations. This is reflected in his public mandate letter to every federal minister, including the federal Minister of Justice.
Our court has been diligently engaged on these issues too. Since last May, we have been planning our court’s judicial Fall Conference, themed on indigenous legal issues in the different areas of our court’s work. This conference and its theme emerged in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “calls to action” (June 2015). The executive of all three courts recently met with the highly-regarded ADAG of the Aboriginal Justice Division, Kimberly Murray, to discuss how the Ontario government will implement its response to the Commission’s calls to action. Further, our court has accepted Ms. Murray’s invitation to send judicial representatives to a Gladue summit her division will hold this fall, in Thunder Bay.
The collaborative partnerships we forge among different justice sector partners on all important issues – from constitutional case timelines, to court modernization, to indigenous legal issues – is the strength of our system.
This court values and assiduously safeguards the individual independence of each of our judges to fairly and impartially decide each case they hear. But we also understand that, at the institutional level, we are stronger when we join together with other courts, with other branches of government, with the Bar, and pro bono organizations. Ensemble, nous sommes vraiment plus fort!
Through dialogue and cooperation we will ensure effective access to justice, the efficient administration of justice, and adherence to the rule of law. This is how, collectively, we will meet the challenges of a perpetually-shifting legal landscape. This is how we will succeed!
Thank you. Merci.