2003 Report of the Superior Court of Justice
Chief Justice Smith’s Remarks
Opening of the Courts of Ontario
January 6, 2003
Chief justices, colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, distinguished representatives of the Bar, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a great privilege for me to be here to speak to you this afternoon at the Opening of Courts ceremony as the new Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice. C’est un grand honeur d’être ici en tant que nouveau Juge en chef de la Cour supérieure de justice de l’Ontario à l’occasion de l’ouverture des cours.
As I said when I was sworn in as Chief Justice, I am both honoured and humbled to have been appointed Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice. I am honoured because it is a privilege to be given the opportunity to serve the people of Ontario as Chief Justice of the Superior Court. I am humbled because I know that I will be following in the footsteps of Chief Justices like Patrick Lesage, Roy Mcmurtry, Frank Callaghan, Bill Parker, Gregory Evans, Bill Colter and Bill Lyon. These giants of the judiciary held the title of Chief Justice or Chief Judge of those courts which were the predecessors of this Court, now known as the Superior Court of Justice.
In that regard I would like to make special mention of the outstanding contribution to the administration of justice that has been made to this Court by former Chief Justice Patrick Lesage. I am so very grateful to Justice Lesage for his unwavering support and guidance. His wisdom, his humanity and his warmth are appreciated by all who have the good fortune to work with him. I know I speak for all of the members of the Superior Court when I say how grateful we all are to Justice Lesage for his remarkable contribution – not only to the administration of justice – but to each of us personally through the countless kindnesses he has demonstrated to virtually every member of this Court during his term as Chief Justice. While he is enjoying new challenges during his sabbatical at Massey College, we look forward to Justice Lesage’s return as a sitting judge of the Superior Court later this year.
I am especially pleased with the appointment of Associate Chief Justice Douglas Cunningham as the Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice. Associate Chief Justice Cunningham has distinguished himself in his career as a superb advocate and judge. In addition he has been a valuable member of the Council of Regional Senior Judges in his capacity as the Regional Senior Justice for the East region. I know that Associate Chief Justice Cunningham will discharge his duties as Associate Chief Justice with the same high standard that he has demonstrated throughout his legal and judicial careers.
To my colleagues on the Council of Regional Senior Judges I want to thank you for your support, especially over these past four months. I know there is much work to do as we embark on the challenges of the administration of the Superior Court together. I know with the help of all of you, and all of the judges of the Superior Court, together we will serve this Court and the public well. I am very grateful to Mr. Justice James Chadwick who has agreed to serve as Acting Regional Senior Justice in the East region until a new Regional Senior Justice is appointed to replace Associate Chief Justice Cunningham.
As we begin 2003, the 213th year of our Court, I wish to acknowledge the hard work of the judges and masters of the Superior Court. They continue to give, as they have in the past, unstintingly of themselves to serve the citizens of this province.
Au nom de la Cour supérieure de justice de l’Ontario, je souhaite la bienvenue à vous tous qui travaillez toujours avec tellement de dévouement au service des ontariens et des ontariennes.
On behalf of the Superior Court of Justice I wish to thank each judge and master of this court for their dedication. Their commitment is reflected not only in those visible hours in the courtroom and in considering and writing judgments or jury charges, but also in the countless hours required to keep current in changes in the law and societal issues.
During the past year, 12 judges have been appointed to the Superior Court and 10 have retired. The new judges who have been appointed are all of very high calibre and we are very pleased to welcome them to our Court.
Our Court currently consists of 289 judges, including 61 supernumerary judges, 4 full-time masters, 4 per diem masters, 13 case management masters, along with 3 full-time and 5 per diem small claims court judges. In addition, there is a very large roster of 375 practising lawyers who serve as Deputy Judges in the Small Claims Court.
We currently have six judicial vacancies. Although some are fairly recent, there is one vacancy in the Central South region that has existed for a year and a half. I am grateful to the Minister of Justice for the timely appointments that have taken place during the past year. I encourage the Minister of Justice, as former Chief Justice Lesage has stated in the past, to continue to make appointments on a timely basis.
Workload of the Superior Court
The Superior Court of Justice is the largest superior court in Canada and continues to have the greatest workload of any provincial superior court. While the data for 2002 suggests that trials in criminal and civil matters have decreased, since 1998 the Superior Court has had a steady increase in the number of family matters disposed of.
With a greater proliferation of cases involving unrepresented litigants as well as other factors, the length and complexity of trials in the Superior Court has increased. In addition, much of a Superior Court judge’s time relates not only to trial work and motions but as well deals with matters such as case conferences and settlement conferences and many other tasks that are undertaken by the Superior Court judiciary and not necessarily reflected in court statistics.
Even at full complement, which our Court has not been at for some time, the Superior Court continues to have the lowest judge to population ratio of any comparable court in Canada. Over the last eight years, when the population of Ontario has increased by more than one million citizens, there has been no corresponding increase in judicial complement for the Superior Court of Justice to reflect that.
The Superior Court of Justice is committed to a fair and affordable process for family law litigants in all 50 Superior Court judicial centres in this province. Our 17 Superior Court locations that now exercise Unified Family Court jurisdiction are fortunate to have excellent support services provided by the Ministry of the Attorney General (including mediation, family law information centres, legal aid, supervised access, parenting information sessions, counselling, and assessments). These services are constantly working to improve the support available for families involved in the court process. I would like to see these same services available at every one of the remaining 33 Superior Court sites in the province.
As Chief Justice Lesage indicated last year, we continue to face challenges with the expansion of the Family branch. The expansion of the Family branch in 1999 made the Superior Court of Justice a court of first instance in child protection matters at these 17 court locations. We could not have anticipated that the change in legislation and its application would so greatly increase the volume of child protection work. We are striving to meet this challenge by assigning judges throughout the province in accordance with need. The assignment of judges in this manner ensures all the judicial resources of the Superior Court are available, to the greatest extent possible, to meet the needs of children at risk.
The most important and significant goal of the expansion of the Family branch of the Superior Court of Justice must be to provide the public with access to a properly resourced and supported family court that can provide an effective, efficient and dignified means to resolve all family matters. That being said, tremendous pressure has been placed on the Superior Court in order to deal with the increased workload generated by an increase in the child protection cases and to deal with them within the timelines required by statute. This is especially true in centres such as Ottawa, Hamilton and Whitby.
I assure you that the provision of judicial resources for child protection cases has been and will remain a top priority for the Superior Court. However, without additional resources, dealing with child protection cases in a timely manner will continue to present a challenge for our Court in the future.
I know that former Chief Justice Lesage has written to the Attorney General of Ontario seeking an increase in the complement of judges of the Superior Court. I fully support former Chief Justice Lesage’s request in this regard and I look forward to working with the Attorney General of Ontario and the federal Minister of Justice in addressing these judicial complement concerns.
I know the federal Minister of Justice has recently announced plans to further expand the Family branch of the Superior Court within Ontario. I would urge both the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General to ensure that sufficient financial support and resources for such expansion are in place before any further expansion of the Family branch occurs in order that the needs of the public are adequately provided for.
Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court continues to be the busiest branch of this Court. I fully expect that this trend will continue. The monetary jurisdiction of the Court was increased to $10,000.00 in April of 2001. This Court could not operate without the dedicated Small Claims Court judges and the practising lawyers who, by sitting as Deputy Judges, make a significant contribution to the administration of justice in this province. I express to each and every one of them our sincere gratitude for their hard work.
We are a large court, serving as we do almost 12 million people in this province, from L’Orignal to Kenora and from Windsor to Cochrane and beyond. We service an area of approximately 2 million square kilometres. In 2002, approximately 25% of the Superior Court circuited outside their own regions for periods of at least two weeks. As the late Chief Justice Callaghan, Chief Justice McMurtry and former Chief Justice Lesage often remarked, circuiting is a hallmark of the Superior Court. It is essential that we do not fall back into the practice of having local justice in the sense that the same judges serve the same community all the time. It is neither healthy for the administration of justice nor for the judiciary to have the same judges presiding in the same court houses on a routine basis. It is essential that the Court, which is province-wide, be reflective of all members of the Court, whether in Toronto, in Cochrane or in Windsor.
Comme vous le savez tous, notre but a toujours été d’administrer la justice dans les deux langues officielles du Canada. Je suis fier de vous annoncer que, grâce aux désignations de nouveaux juges bilingues, notre cour est présentement en mesure de mieux servir nos citoyens et citoyennes dans les deux langues officielles. Je suis convaincu que nous avons atteint notre objectif à cet égard.
Our Court provides services to litigants in both of Canada’s official languages. We now have bilingual judicial capacity in all regions of the province. Our Court is able to provide a judge to preside in either English or French to any member of the public in any region of the province who wishes a hearing in our Court in either official language.
Ministry of the Attorney General
I wish to publicly thank the Attorney General and his officials for their assistance in a number of areas during this past year. Ministry officials have undertaken an audit of our law clerk resources to ensure the judges of our Court have sufficient research support to assist them in their work. They are updating and ensuring that resource standards are applied equally across the province. Ministry officials are also addressing, with the Court, deficiencies identified in our judicial services technology areas. Resources have also been allocated to further identify and rectify necessary security precautions for the current computer technology employed by the judiciary.
I also acknowledge the Ministry’s support in ensuring that all judicial libraries in this province be maintained at a very high level. It is imperative that all judicial libraries, regardless of their location, are treated satisfactorily, equally and fairly.
I am very grateful, Mr. Attorney, for these resources that your Ministry has made available to the Superior Court in the last year. These resources are essential if the Court is to continue to deliver a high quality of justice in a timely way.
Ontario Justice Education Network
2002 saw an important milestone for public legal education. With funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario and support from key participants in the legal and education communities, the Ontario Justice Education Network was established. Its launch coincided with the law day celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Ontario Justice Education Network – or OJEN – has developed out of the public education activity of volunteers from the judiciary, the Bar, government, and legal aid. The Ministry of the Attorney General, and others represented here today have been strong supporters from the outset. OJEN is an ongoing forum for justice system participants, educators, community representatives and others to promote public understanding, education and dialogue in support of a responsive and inclusive justice system. As Chief Justice McMurtry has often said, strengthening understanding of the legal system and the administration of justice strengthens a vital pillar of democracy.
Members of the Superior Court have been extremely active in volunteering their time to assist with OJEN- both in speaking with students and providing leadership in developing the courtrooms and classrooms program with other participants of the justice system. I am particularly grateful to Madam Justice Fran Kiteley for all of her hard work in helping to organize this endeavour.
I would also like to join Chief Justice McMurtry in thanking all of the volunteers who have contributed so much to this programme. As Chief Justice McMurtry has mentioned, Executive Director Taivi Lobu has done a masterful job in co-ordinating the initiatives throughout the province. Captain Doug Taylor has also dedicated countless hours in coordinating the visits of the high school students in Toronto. We are all very appreciative for the dedication shown by everyone involved in this project.
In closing, I am most grateful for the hard work of all of the members of the Superior Court of Justice over the past year. The public has been well served by their dedication and unfailing commitment to justice. I am confident that the members of our Court will continue to serve the public with the same level of distinction in 2003.