2005 Report of the Superior Court of Justice
CHIEF JUSTICE SMITH’S REMARKS
OPENING OF THE COURTS OF ONTARIO
JANUARY 5, 2005
Chief Justices, judicial colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, distinguished representatives of the bar, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: it is always a great privilege to speak at the Opening of Courts in my role as the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice.
C’est toujours un grand honneur d’être ici aujourd’hui en tant que juge en chef de la cour supérieure de justice à l’occasion de la cérémonie d’ouverture des cours.
This year marks the 215th year in the long and storied history of our court. We will also be celebrating the 15th anniversary of what is now known as the Superior Court of Justice, created in 1990 from the merger of the County and District Courts and the old High Court of Justice.
This merger is but one of many initiatives in the evolution of our court. As society changes, our courts must continue to adapt to meet the ongoing challenge of providing an effective, affordable and accessible justice system.
Many individuals and groups contribute to the success of our court; including the judiciary, the bar and professional organizations here today, as well as the provincial and federal ministries.
The Superior Court would like to extend its profound gratitude to all those who have shown their unstinting commitment and dedication in administering and delivering justice to the public. To their credit, they have maintained the high level of professionalism and service that is a hallmark of this court, in the face of increasing resource pressures in all areas of the Superior Court’s jurisdiction.
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. La réputation positive de le cour superieur a été meritee grace a ceux qui continuent fidelement dans leurs taches.
Ministry of the Attorney General
I want to publicly thank the Attorney General and his officials for their assistance in the past year. In particular, I would like to commend the Ministry for their considerable efforts on working co-operatively with the judiciary on a number of initiatives. Joint approaches, improved communication, and consultation, assisted us all in addressing challenges in the administration of justice. I want to also take this opportunity to specifically thank the new deputy Attorney General, Mr. Murray Segal, for his assistance during the year and to congratulate him on his appointment.
The Work of RSJ Council
On the Superior Court of Justice, the regional senior judges, known as RSJ’s, under my direction, perform the duties and exercise the powers of the Chief Justice within each of the respective 8 judicial regions of our court.
The RSJ Council of the Superior Court convenes regularly.
As one new initiative, the RSJ Council of the Superior Court meets once a year in joint session with Chief Justice Lennox, and his Council from the Ontario Court of Justice, to consider matters of mutual interest. As a second initiative, we traditionally met exclusively in Osgoode Hall; now, we meet alternately at the different regional judicial centres so Council members can meet with the bench, bar and court staff in each region.
Each one of the 8 RSJ’s of the Superior Court brings a wealth of judicial, administrative and management experience to the Council table. As Chief Justice I am tremendously indebted to all of these very able judges for their invaluable advice, guidance and support.
The Chief Justice is supported in RSJ Council by the Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Mr. Justice Doug Cunningham. In addition to his work with RSJ Council, Associate Chief Justice Cunningham has made extensive efforts in a number of areas including Divisional Court, the Deputy Judges Council and Small Claims Court to name but a few. He is an accomplished judge and I consider myself fortunate to have the benefit of his wisdom and experience to support the operations and administration of our court.
A few short years ago, the total complement of our court stood at 295 judges. Today, the total complement stands reduced to 286 judges due to the recent retirement of a substantial number of supernumerary judges.
Currently, we have five outstanding judicial vacancies on the Superior Court. One of these vacancies is for the position of Senior Family Judge. Madam Justice Mary Lou Benotto, admirably performed this role for the last 4 years: but, in the fall of 2004, expressed her wish to return to the general complement. Justice Benotto’s contribution to the Family Court has been immeasurable. I would like to publicly offer my own thanks, and that of the whole court, for her advice and commitment as Senior Family Judge.
Mr. Justice Lee Ferrier also deserves a special note of thanks for deftly executing the responsibilities of Acting/RSJ for Toronto Region for a number of months in late 2003 and into 2004. I would also like to extend my congratulations to Mr. Justice Warren Winkler, who was appointed as the RSJ for Toronto Region late last spring, and has not rested since his appointment.
Unfortunately, in the year 2004 we lost the Honourable Madam Justice Patricia Wallace. She was an outstanding judge, a fine person and a caring colleague. Appointed in 1987, after almost a decade’s contribution to the Unified Family Court in the Central South Region, Justice Wallace, expressed a desire to take on the challenges presented by the broader work of the court, and she transferred to the General Division in Simcoe. Throughout her judicial career, Pat Wallace was a role model for younger judges and an inspiration to her colleagues – she always gave her best and expected the same in return. The Superior Court has been diminished by her loss.
In 2004, Mr. Michael Brown, the former Executive Legal Officer to the Chief Justice, was one of the new judicial appointments to our court, and was appointed to the Superior Court of Justice in the Central East Region. Mr. Justice Brown served both former Chief Justice LeSage and myself both ably and well in his capacity as Executive Legal Officer and we wish him well as he embarks on his judicial career.
Workload of the Superior Court
The workload of the Superior Court of Justice continues to grow. The overall population of the province has increased substantially over the last decade. Yet, the judicial complement in Ontario has remained static and the Superior Court has the lowest judge-to-population ratio of any comparable court in the country. The judicial workload challenge has been especially formidable in central east and the central west regions of our court, which have experienced “explosive” population growth. In responding to the increasing workload, our judicial resources have been stretched to their limit and beyond.
Statistics show these increases as a matter of fact, but the numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Within the last decade, radical changes have transformed the justice system and these changes continue to impose new demands on our resources. For example:
- Technology has revolutionized both judging and advocacy within our courts.
- The length and complexity of cases proceeding before our court have continued to expand.
- There are increased numbers of self-represented litigants, and,
- There is an increased emphasis on the need for continuing judicial education
These factors, together with various court reforms, like case management, have transformed the role of the judge. In this respect, the modern judge must deploy a diverse set of judicial skills to perform a wide array of important functions, if the justice system is to continue to evolve effectively.
A Case in Point – Toronto Case Management
Both the bench and the bar have expressed growing concerns in the last year about serious delays in the civil justice system in Toronto. These delays increased costs and extended times to disposition. Effective case management in civil litigation is necessary, but difficulties have arisen in the universal application of the case management rule in Toronto.
In consultation with the Ministry of the Attorney General and the bar, the Superior Court of Justice has proactively implemented fundamental changes to this case management regime. This judicially-driven initiative is a 3-year pilot project in Toronto aimed at expediting civil matters and reducing costs.
To date, the judiciary has demonstrated remarkable resiliency in adapting to meet all the complex justice needs of our society. While our justice system and its judiciary are the envy of the world, An ever-increasing workload and an array of ever-more varied functions to perform, may jeopardize our continued ability to respond effectively, without additional resources.
Two thousand and four marked a pivotal turning point in the management of family law proceedings in the Superior Court. Family Court expansions in 1995 and 1999 had overwhelmingly and unexpectedly increased the ‘case-managed’ family workload in the Superior Court of Justice. In the past, four different sets of procedural rules applied to family law cases across Ontario. However, as of July 1, 2004, I am very happy to report that a single set of family law rules now operates at all 50 Superior Court of Justice sites and the same rules apply at all Ontario Court of Justice sites.
In 2004, our court worked diligently, in collaboration with the Ministry, to develop new resources, including a new video resource that will shortly be made available in all our court locations to inform parties and counsel of the different options, alternatives and services that are available to assist families in need and children at risk. Current family resources include the excellent support services mandated for every family court site by the Ministry of the Attorney General (including the Family Law Information Centres, Legal Aid, Supervised Access, Parenting Information Sessions, Counselling, and Assessments).
Additions to Family Court Judicial Complement
More than 2 years ago, the federal Minister of Justice announced the creation a pool of judges to be available in April 2005 to support hard pressed family courts jurisdictions across the country. I know that the federal and provincial ministries continue to press for the Ontario proposal for added judges to enhance our family court branch. I remain optimistic that there will be positive developments in the near future. “Ontarians” deserve nothing less.
We are addressing scheduling needs in all areas of this court’s jurisdiction. As an inherently generalist and circuiting court, we must retain the flexibility to assign judges throughout the province in accordance with need. The assignment of judges in this manner ensures availability of necessary judicial resources in all areas, criminal, civil and family.
And, I know that the Attorney General of Ontario and his officials share the Superior Court’s concern with respect to the special challenge of child protection cases in Ontario. In 2004, the Ministry of the Attorney General co-hosted its 3rd in a series of Justice Summits and presented recommendations to ameliorate the child protection backlog. In 2005, I look forward to working in co-operation with the Ministry to implement these vital recommendations, which include:
- Full representation and timely representation of all parties in child protection proceedings;
- Timely assessments in these cases; and,
- A template for “best practices” to assist in processing the child protection backlog.
Dealing with child protection cases in a timely manner will present an even greater challenge in future, without additional judicial resources. However, the provision of judicial resources for “children at risk” must be a top priority of the Superior Court.
Small Claims Court – Branch of the Superior Court of Justice
The Small Claims Court continues to be the busiest branch of this court. Despite the tens of thousands of case files that are managed by this court each year, the Small Claims Court continues to provide a system that ensures the efficient, effective and timely adjudication of claims under $10,000. I wish to extend my thanks for the remarkable effort of those who toil so prodigiously in the Small Claims Court. In particular, I would like to recognize Madam Justice Pamela Thomson and Mr. Justice Don Godfrey, all of the 380 lawyers who so ably and professionally serve as deputy judges, along with all of the court services staff for their unceasing efforts for the Small Claims Court.
Divisional Court of the Superior Court of Justice
The Divisional Court remains one of the busiest appellate courts in all of Canada. The Divisional Court is the primary forum for judicial reviews and for statutory appeals from a wide variety of administrative tribunals in Ontario and some civil appeals.
I would like to thank Mr. Justice Edward Then for all of his tremendous commitment over the last 4 years as the administrative judge responsible for the Divisional Court – a task he performed with both grace and sagacity. He leaves Divisional Court in exceptionally good order and he has our thanks.
Almost daily, our society becomes more complex and sophisticated. The Superior Court of Justice has always risen to meet the challenge of our changing times. Along with the equally outstanding work of our colleagues in the Ontario Court of Appeal and in the Ontario Court of Justice, the judges of the Superior Court have distinguished Ontario’s justice system and its judiciary as being amongst the most talented and professional in the world. Despite our growing challenges, I am confident the members of the Superior Court will continue to serve the public with distinction throughout 2005.
De la part de tous les membres de la cour superior d’Ontario, je voudrais vous souhaiter mes meilleurs voeux pour le nouvel an. Merci beaucoup.
On behalf of all members of the Superior Court, I would like to wish everyone a very happy new year. Thank you very much.
 The family court branch expansion in 1999 added significant workload to the Superior Court. At that time, 17 judicial positions were created to address the workload increases resulting only from the transfer of responsibility from the Ontario Court of Justice to the expanded Family Branch of the Superior Court of Justice.