2007 Report of the Superior Court of Justice
CHIEF JUSTICE SMITH’S REMARKS
OPENING OF THE COURTS OF ONTARIO
JANUARY 10, 2007
Your Honour, Chief Justices, judicial colleagues, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, distinguished representatives of the Bar, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen: c’est toujours un grand honneur pour moi de participer en tant que juge en chef de la cour supérieure de justice à l’occasion de la cérémonie d’ouverture des cours.
I am very pleased that we are joined today by the Honourable Michael Bryant, Attorney General of Ontario as well as Mr. Gavin MacKenzie, Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada, both of whom will be addressing us today. This past year, both have provided invaluable support to the Superior Court of Justice.
I am pleased that we are also joined today by Mr. Donald Buckingham who is the Judicial Affairs Advisor to the new Minister of Justice, the Honourable Rob Nicholson.
It is a great privilege for me, as Chief Justice, to report on behalf of the Superior Court of Justice at this 2007 Opening of Courts ceremony. As I do so, I am pleased to report that there is much to celebrate in our current justice system, including the many achievements of Chief Justice Roy McMurtry.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROY MCMURTRY
Significantly, this is the last time Chief Justice McMurtry will be presiding at the Opening of Courts as Chief Justice of Ontario. He retires in May of this year after a distinguished 31-year career of public service, which began when he was first elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1975. There will be many opportunities before May 2007 to celebrate Chief Justice McMurtry’s achievements, but today I would still like to pay a brief tribute to him.
Throughout his professional career, Chief Justice McMurtry has given true meaning to the expression “public service”.
As a member of the private Bar, he was active in the community, supporting the Big Brothers organization, rehabilitation projects for penitentiary inmates, Frontier College’s adult education programmes, senior citizens’ housing as well as numerous multi-cultural initiatives.
After his election to the Ontario Legislature, he was appointed Attorney General of Ontario by Premier William Davis, a post he held for an extraordinarily productive 10-year period. During his tenure as Attorney General, he was responsible for introducing major law reforms in Ontario, including the Bill which established Ontario’s bilingual judicial system which thrives to this day.
De plus, comme vous le savez sans doute, pendant son mandat comme Procureur Général, le juge en chef McMurtry a également joué un rôle critique dans les négociations qui ont mené au repatriement de la Constitution canadienne.
In 1991, he was appointed the first Associate Chief Justice and then, in 1994, the Chief Justice of what was to become the Superior Court of Justice. He was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario on February 20, 1996 and his tenure since, has been characterized by his professionalism and his passion for the rule of law.
Over and above admirably discharging his responsibilities as Chief Justice, he has continued to contribute, as the Renaissance man he is, to many worthwhile causes. For example, as one of its founders, he introduced and supported the Ontario Justice Education Network. This initiative promoted students learning about the rule of law and fostered their respect for our justice system. Over the last three years, some 40,000 students in Toronto alone benefited from OJEN’s Courtrooms and Classrooms program.
It is hard to imagine the province of Ontario without Chief Justice Roy McMurtry playing a significant leadership role in it, given how deftly and publicly he has defined the qualities of leadership for us over the past 30 years.
Chief Justice, Ontario’s justice system has benefited greatly from your leadership, both before and since your appointment as Chief Justice of the Province. On behalf of the Superior Court of Justice, I thank you.
CHIEF JUSTICE BRIAN LENNOX
Today also marks the last Opening of Courts ceremony for the Honourable Brian Lennox as his extraordinary 8-year term as Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice ends in May of 2007.
Appointed a judge of the Provincial Court (Criminal Division) in 1986, the Honourable Brian Lennox became the Regional Senior Judge of his Court in the East Region in 1990, was appointed Associate Chief Justice in 1995 and, then, Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice in 1999.
During his 8-year term, Chief Justice Lennox, has provided exceptional leadership and stewardship to the Ontario Court of Justice. Responsible for the direction, supervision and assignment of a judicial complement of 284 judges and a complement of over 300 justices of the peace, Chief Justice Lennox has held one of the most challenging jobs in the entire Canadian justice system.
As Chief Justice, he has addressed the many challenges faced by his Court with energy, grace and aplomb! He has strengthened the administrative independence of his Court and he has reduced his Court’s criminal backlog. Perhaps just as importantly from the Superior Court’s perspective, he has now fully re-engaged and revitalized his Court’s role in family law proceedings.
Chief Justice Lennox, you have earned the respect of everyone who has had the privilege of working with you on these administration of justice issues. Personally, I have appreciated your collegial and collaborative approach to these issues in promoting the public interest.
MINISTER OF JUSTICE
At a September, 2006 meeting of Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges in Toronto, the former federal Minister of Justice stated that:
“The rule of law can only flourish in a society where there is public confidence in the operation of legal and legislative institutions.”
I know that all Canadians accept and endorse this statement of principle. Our shared acceptance and respect for the rule of law makes our Canadian justice system one of the most envied in the world. It is truly a national treasure!
In my view, the public’s respect and confidence in our justice system are the direct result of the dedication and hard work of the thousands of individuals who, on a daily basis, strive to ensure accessible, effective and efficient justice in our Courts.
In Ontario, our judges, our court staff, the Bar, the federal Department of Justice and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General have all worked diligently to ensure that serving the public remains the priority of our justice system. During the past year, Superior Court judges have presided over an ever-increasing number of trials as well as pre-trials, case conferences and settlement conferences in all lines of our Court’s work.
In addition to handling their traditional judicial assignments of trials and motions, the workload of our judges has significantly increased as a result of our new rules which emphasize the early resolution of disputes and the better management of cases, employing our recently developed “best practices” in civil, family and criminal cases.
The judicial complement of the Superior Court has, regrettably, not kept pace with this increasing workload, particularly since the introduction of our “best practices” and their added demands on judges’ time.
Ontario’s exploding population has significantly increased our judicial workload. As I have noted on earlier occasions, Ontario’s population has increased by an astounding 3.8 million residents in the last 16 years! To repeat a very useful comparison, Ontario’s population increase alone in the last 16 years is greater than Alberta’s entire current population of 3.2 million people and is much larger than the current combined population of all the Maritime Provinces of 2.3 million people.
Despite this extraordinary increase in population and the resulting workload challenges, our Superior Court judges have doggedly worked to maintain the exceptionally high quality of adjudication on which this Court prides itself.
By way of example, I would like today to acknowledge the contribution to the Superior Court of Justice of the Honourable Mr. Justice Norman Dyson, who retired from our Court this week on his 75th birthday, after 12 years of unstinting and distinguished service to the public. We wish him a long and healthy retirement.
The Honourable Norman Dyson personifies the dedication and commitment to service that I have observed from all of our judges, especially when our judicial complement was not at full strength. Indeed, at one point in 2006, we saw as many as 16 unfilled judicial vacancies on the Superior Court.
At the Canadian Bar Association’s annual meeting in Newfoundland in August of 2006, the former Minister of Justice indicated that his first priority as Minister was to fill outstanding judicial vacancies across the country. To his credit, the federal Minister made 15 excellent judicial appointments to the Superior Court of Justice between mid-September and mid-December 2006. Every one of our new judges lives up to the very highest standards that the public expects of Superior Court judges.
But, as pleased as we are with these 15 new appointments, our judicial complement must be brought up to full strength quickly. This is the only way that our judicial schedules can operate properly because 2007 schedules have been prepared assuming the “expected” full judicial complement. Every judicial vacancy places extraordinary burdens on our remaining complement of judges. Every vacancy further delays the public’s timely access to justice.
At the Opening of Courts last January, there were 5 judicial vacancies on the Superior Court. As of today, even though 15 judges have since been appointed to the Court, there are now 11 vacancies on the Court and the Regional Senior Judge’s position in Central East Region remains unfilled. We need to fill these 11 judicial vacancies and to fill the RSJ position!
In addition, another 12 supernumerary elections are expected on the Court in 2007. The timely replacement of supernumerary judges upon their election is absolutely necessary to attain full complement strength. Our judges alert the Minister of Justice six months before they elect supernumerary status, thus ensuring ample time for their seamless replacement to the Court.
On the debit side, in 2007, we will lose the invaluable services of 10 of our most experienced supernumerary judges as they reach the mandatory retirement age of 75. Thus, the Superior Court will require two-dozen timely, seamless judicial appointments during 2007 just to secure our mandated full complement!
Additional Judicial Positions
Last August at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual meeting, the former federal Minister indicated that he would consider requests for additional judges if there were “clear and objective evidence” of such need.
There is clear and compelling evidence of the need to increase the Superior Court’s judicial complement. This position is fully supported by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ontario Bar Association, the County and District Law Presidents’ Association as well as numerous law associations in this province. There is a clear consensus that, even at current full complement, the Superior Court of Justice will still require an overall complement increase to deliver “timely” access to justice.
Before seeking additional resources, the Superior Court sought to maximize the use of its existing judicial resources. “Best practices” were developed by the Court to ensure efficiencies in all of our Court’s civil, criminal and family proceedings where new rules in each area have been introduced.
The most recent example would be the mandatory, standardized and meaningful pre-trials that are now required in all criminal cases. These pre-trials were developed by the Chief Justice’s Advisory Committee on Criminal Trials in the Superior Court under the leadership of Regional Senior Judge Bruce Durno and Mr. Justice David Watt. These criminal “best practices” mirror those developed years ago by the Superior Court for its civil and family cases. All of these measures are designed to promote the early resolution and the better management of cases.
However, the “best practices” and new rules in civil, criminal and family cases all require additional judge-time from the same complement of judges that must cope with the phenomenal increase in our Court’s regular trial and motions work.
Family Court Proposal
The relentless judicial complement pressures led the Superior Court and the Attorney General of Ontario in 2004 to forward to the Federal Government a joint proposal to increase our Family Court complement by 12 judges. At that time, our proposal was accepted and commended by the federal Minister of Justice for its thoroughness and its compelling business case.
The jointly proposed increase of 12 Family Court judges would have augmented the judicial complement at existing Family Court sites and would have expanded to one new Family Court site in Welland, Ontario. During last year’s Opening of Courts, I expressed the hope that this joint proposal would soon be tabled before the next Parliament for legislative approval. These additional members of the Family Court are still desperately needed if “children at risk” and “families in crisis” are to receive timely access to justice. Progress must now be made quickly on this joint proposal!
As Chief Justice of the Superior Court, my assessment is that the Court has now reached a critical point: as our Court’s workload is increasing, our judicial complement faces increasing vacancies and looming retirements. The result is an impatient public, waiting for increasingly longer periods of time to have their cases heard.
It is only because of the collective efforts of our judges and our supernumerary judges that we are still able to schedule civil, family and criminal proceedings – but on dangerously extended timelines!
SMALL CLAIMS COURT AND JUDICIAL OFFICERS
There are others who should be thanked for the success of our justice system.
In particular, I wish to acknowledge and thank our full-time Judges and the Deputy Judges of our Small Claims Court for the enormous contribution they make to civil justice in this province.
In July 2006, new Rules were introduced to make the Small Claims Court even more accessible to litigants. As a result, almost all Small Claims Court cases are now completed within 6 months. This branch of the Superior Court handles approximately 45% of all civil claims in Ontario and it truly represents the face of accessible, efficient and affordable justice to thousands of people in Ontario for civil claims under $10,000.
As well, our Registrars, our Masters and our Case Management Masters are to be commended for the pivotal role they play in supporting and assisting the Superior Court’s civil work.
It is worth observing and celebrating the fact that 2007 will mark the 170th anniversary of the office of the Master in Ontario. Since 1837, Masters have been an integral part of civil justice in Ontario in regulating civil procedure and in conducting references and they have continued to uphold the fine traditions of this vital office with distinction.
STAFF OF THE OFFICE OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE
I also wish to express my appreciation to the staff of the Office of the Chief Justice for their continued dedication, loyalty and service to the Court. Your professionalism and your efforts continue to be integral to the smooth operation of this Court.
MINISTRY OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
There is an excellent working relationship between the Superior Court and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, which is charged under the Constitution Act with the administration of justice in Ontario.
Mr. Attorney, I thank you for your continuing and unqualified support for an increase to the Superior Court’s judicial complement. You are also to be commended for the timely appointment of provincially-appointed judicial officers who support the Superior Court.
You have also made possible an additional Case Management Master for Ottawa. As Master Calum MacLeod heads to Ottawa in early February to take up his duties, we appreciate your assurances that his replacement will soon be appointed to Toronto.
Also, your strong support has made possible the acquisition of the splendid new facility for civil cases at 330 University Avenue in Toronto. It provides us with nine additional courtrooms and settlement rooms to handle our important Commercial List, Estates List as well as all long civil trials in Toronto.
This has permitted our 361 University Avenue courthouse to be exclusively dedicated to criminal cases where two additional, newly refurbished jury courtrooms are now available for that purpose.
Mr. Attorney, I know that you undertook these facilities initiatives with the encouragement and assistance of Regional Senior Judge Warren Winkler and Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer of our Court. All these efforts to improve and enhance the Superior Court facilities in the face of our growing workload challenges were both timely and very much appreciated.
I would be remiss if I did not add my special thanks to Deputy Attorney General Murray Segal and Assistant Deputy Attorney General Ann Merritt for their extraordinary efforts on our behalf. They are both consummate public servants!
Finally, I extend my thanks to the Bar for its strong and unqualified support for the Superior Court’s case to increase its complement. My thanks to you, Mr. Treasurer, for the Law Society’s support on this issue.
For their support as well, I also thank the Ontario Bar Association, the County and District Law Presidents Association, the Advocates’ Society and other law associations, many of whom are represented here today. Your voice buttresses our “clear and objective” call for a judicial complement increase !
Our justice system is second to none because of the competence, diligence and energy of the committed individuals who make it up. Their combined efforts have been nothing short of remarkable in the past year.
I wish everyone a healthy and prosperous New Year.
Thank you. Merci et Bonne Année.