Remarks by: Chief Justice Warren K. Winkler
September 13, 2011
It is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2011 Opening of the Courts ceremony.
We are honoured today by the presence of:
I am also very pleased to welcome:
We are also privileged to have present with us many other judges, masters and justices of the peace from all three levels of court.
As well, I am very pleased to welcome:
I am also pleased to welcome the distinguished members of the Bar who are seated at counsel table:
Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.
Il me fait vraiment plaisir que vous êtes présents avec nous aujourd’hui pour cet important événement annuel.
The Opening of the Courts allows us to pause and reflect on our strengths and accomplishments. It also gives us an opportunity to consider areas where improvement is needed.
We have much to celebrate. Ontario’s courts are internationally recognized for their fairness, transparency and the important role they play in promoting the rule of law. Our judges are widely respected and are often called upon to provide judicial education and training throughout the world. Our legal system enjoys a high level of confidence among individuals and businesses alike. Indeed we often hear that our justice system is the envy of the world.
However, despite our recognized virtues we also have challenges. It will come as no surprise that I believe our foremost challenge is access to justice. This is an issue I have spoken about frequently and which has received increasing public attention across Canada.
Access to justice was prominently raised at the Canadian Bar Association’s Conference last month in Halifax.
The Governor General of Canada, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, observed in his address to the Bar Association that, “for many today, the law is not accessible.”
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who has taken a leading role in publicizing this issue, said that access to justice was the “greatest challenge facing the Canadian justice system.”
If we are to make meaningful progress in addressing this issue, we must concentrate on areas of law where we can have the greatest impact. We should prioritize those areas with the greatest societal need and where concrete change is achievable. Analysed in this fashion, family law cries out for reform.
Family law touches directly or indirectly almost everyone in our society. Our current family law system is too slow, too complex, too adversarial, and above all, too costly. There is no other area of justice reform where we can have a greater impact on ordinary Ontarians.
Some improvements in family law services have been made over the last year. I commend the Ministry of the Attorney General for its role in extending information, mediation and referral services to courts across the Province.
These are welcome changes, but much more must be done if we are going to make significant improvements in access to justice for families in transition.
If real progress is going to be made there must be a fundamental reformation of family law. In order to make family law more accessible, it must be more affordable. To achieve this, the procedures must be simplified and unnecessary steps removed thus shortening the process and making it cheaper. This will allow families to resolve their disputes in a more efficient and affordable manner, assisting them to more effectively move on with their lives.
In order to clear the way for the type of comprehensive reform that I believe necessary and have spoken about frequently, we have to extend the unified family court beyond the current 17 sites to the entire Province. To this end, I urge the two levels of government to begin a dialogue on this important issue.
Proper access to justice is also dependant on having adequate physical resources to hear cases in a timely manner.
In past years I have spoken about the need to expand courthouse facilities to meet existing and increasing criminal caseloads. Not surprisingly, I was disappointed to learn of the cancellation of the planned Toronto West courthouse.
I would also like to emphasize once again that there is a particularly urgent need to build a new courthouse in downtown Toronto to supplement the facility at 361 University Avenue.
The continued failure to address this need increases the risk of intractable delays in hearing cases and thus potential miscarriages of justice.
I turn now to a review of the recent activities of the Court of Appeal.
Over the last year the Court’s judicial makeup has remained unchanged. The Court continues to operate with a full complement of 22 full-time judges and two supernumerary judges.
The overall volume of cases heard by the Court of Appeal has remained relatively steady in recent years.
While remaining the busiest appeal court in Canada, we are able to hear and decide cases in a timely manner.
Civil appeals are typically heard within five months of perfection and criminal appeals within four. More urgent matters are scheduled on an expedited basis.
The thorough and high quality judgments of the Court of Appeal continue to be delivered within the targeted six-month time period, except in extraordinary circumstances.
The Court continues to prioritize judicial education. One of the highlights of the past year was the first ever joint meeting of the Court of Appeal for Ontario and the Québec Court of Appeal, which was held in Ottawa last October. This historic meeting provided a unique opportunity for the two Courts to share information and discuss best practices and future challenges. The meeting left us with a renewed enthusiasm for the work we do. The two Courts have maintained a strong relationship.
On behalf of the Court of Appeal I wish to congratulate the Honourable Michel Robert on his recent retirement as Chief Justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal. He was instrumental in fostering the relationship between the two Courts. I look forward to working with his successor and I am happy to announce that we are planning to again meet with the Québec Court of Appeal — this time in Québec City in 2012.
Many of my distinguished colleagues continue to make significant contributions to legal education in countries throughout the world. A case in point is Justice Robert Armstrong who, as President of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies, has provided leadership in organizing the Cambridge Lectures which draws speakers and participants from around the world to reflect upon an eclectic list of emerging world legal issues.
There have been some important changes respecting criminal appeals. The Court now requires counsel to file electronic factums. This is consistent with our existing practice for civil matters.
Also consistent with our practice for civil appeals, the Court now provides at least one day’s notice prior to releasing its criminal judgments. This change allows all relevant stakeholders to be prepared for the judgment and make any necessary arrangements in advance.
Justice Marc Rosenberg is leading a committee that is examining the Criminal Appeal Rules. This committee, which is composed of members from the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Legal Aid Ontario and staff from the Court of Appeal, is reviewing the rules with a view to their modernization.
Members of the Court of Appeal continue to show great leadership in relation to the Civil and Family Rules Committees and a vast list of other important committees. We are indebted to these judges for this contribution.
The Family Rules Committee has been very active this past year, supporting the Ministry’s expansion of front-end services, responding to new adoption legislation and making other important changes. I would like to thank Justice Gloria Epstein for her hard work during her term as Chair of this Committee. Her term will conclude at the end of October, and I welcome Justice Russell Juriansz to this role.
The Chief Justice of Ontario’s Advisory Committee on Professionalism began two new initiatives. It inaugurated an annual prize, sponsored by the law firm of Rueter Scargall Bennett, for the best student essay on a topic related to legal ethics and professionalism. More recently, this Advisory Committee also established two fellowships in Legal Ethics and Professionalism; one awarded to a faculty member at a university or college and the other awarded to a licensed paralegal, lawyer or student. These initiatives will foster research that will benefit us all.
The Court continues to improve its communication with the media, the profession and the public. Last year the Court published its second consecutive Annual Report. The Report provides statistical and other information and is available on the Court of Appeal’s website.
I am also pleased to announce that a book will be published on the history of the Court of Appeal. The Law Foundation of Ontario has provided a grant to the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History to enable the book’s publication. The book will be written by Christopher Moore who is a renowned legal historian and recipient of the Governor General’s Award. I am delighted that the history of our Court of Appeal will be written by such an esteemed author.
In conclusion, this has been an important year for the justice system and the Courts in Ontario. Much has been accomplished, but much still needs to be done. We have outstanding Courts that are supported by committed members of the Bench, the Bar and both levels of government.
Our greatest challenge is access to justice. This issue has attracted much discussion. It is now time for action. We must find practical measures to ensure that access to justice is broadened so that it does not become just a privilege for the few. I am optimistic that we can work together to bring about the changes necessary to improve access to justice. I invite all of you to engage with me in this regard.
Thank you for your hard work throughout this year and I look forward to working with you in the coming year.