Remarks by: Chief Justice Warren K. Winkler
September 12, 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to be here today with Chief Justice Heather Smith, of the Superior Court of Justice, and Chief Justice Annemarie Bonkalo, of the Ontario Court of Justice.
Together, we would like to welcome you to the Opening of the Courts of Ontario for 2012.
It is my privilege to welcome:
I am also pleased to introduce:
We are also privileged to have present many judges from all three Ontario courts, as well as Masters from the Superior Court of Justice and Justices of the Peace from the Ontario Court of Justice.
As well, I am very pleased to welcome:
I am also pleased to welcome the distinguished members of the Bar who are seated at the 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.
While this ceremony highlights the work of the Courts, it is important to stress that our justice system is a collaborative enterprise, engaging the cooperative efforts of a broad array of individuals and organizations.
This includes members of the judiciary, lawyers, government officials, administrators, as well as those who work in various adjudicative, enforcement and community agencies.
Together we have a collective responsibility to uphold the rule of law.
Central to this task of upholding the rule of law is the need to ensure access to justice.
As the Chief Justice of Canada recently observed:
“access to justice is fundamental to the rule of law. If people decide they can’t get justice, they will have less respect for the law.”
Access to justice is a subject that has rightfully received increased attention in recent years.
If this call for increased access to justice is going to stay meaningful, and be more than just a cliché raised by people like me at occasions like this, we need to start showing measurable progress.
Our goals must be realistic and focused. The access to justice issues we face are too large and too complex to be amenable to one common solution.
Rather, our efforts must be targeted and incremental, based on need and achievability.
As I have frequently stated, we must concentrate our efforts on the specific areas of law with the greatest societal need and where we can have the highest impact.
It is for this reason that I continue to advocate for ongoing family law reform. Ontarians are more likely to have a family law problem than any other type of serious legal issue. Families in transition are expressing their increased frustration about the cost, complexity and delay they face in family litigation.
I applaud the improvements the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Aid Ontario have made to improve family law services and funding. These services are available at all Ontario courts and we have begun to see the benefits of their availability. However, we cannot stop here. More needs to be done.
This past June, Chief Justice Smith, Chief Justice Bonkalo and I were joined by the Minister of Justice for Canada, the Attorney General of Ontario, and the Treasurer of the Law Society to mark the 35th Anniversary of the founding of the Unified Family Court. Together we celebrated the success of this bold initiative.
I share the sentiments of those who are dismayed that the Unified Family Court has not been expanded further across the Province after 35 years of proven success.
I recognize that it may be some time before we see a substantial expansion of the U.F.C.
If we cannot move ahead rapidly with the extension of the Unified Family Court, we need to explore other means to simplify court procedures, shorten timelines, and increase judicial specialization for family law within the existing court structure. These improvements will increase access to justice in our area of greatest need.
I turn now to a review of the Court of Appeal and its activities over this past year.
I spoke earlier of the collaboration that underpins our justice system. Of fundamental importance to the work we do at the Court of Appeal is the cooperation that exists between the Courts and Ontario’s Ministry of the Attorney General.
It is within this context that I am pleased to report that we have entered into our first Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of the Attorney General regarding the administration of the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
This historical Memorandum recognizes the respectful and collaborative relationship that exists between the Court of Appeal and the Province of Ontario.
The document acknowledges our distinct constitutional roles and sets a framework for the continuation of the productive relationship we currently enjoy.
Many other important changes have occurred over this past year. Most significant among them have been the substantial changes we have seen to the composition of the Court. Since I spoke with you last year, four new judicial appointments have been made.
Last October, Justice Michael Moldaver and Justice Andromache Karakatsanis were appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Also this past year, Justices Jean MacFarland, Harry LaForme and Robert Armstrong elected supernumerary status. This created five vacancies on the Court of Appeal.
The Court has benefitted from the addition of Justices Hoy, Pepall, Ducharme, and Tulloch, who have filled four of these vacancies. We welcome our new colleagues and look forward to working with them in the years to come.
While the overall volume of cases heard by the judges of the Court of Appeal has remained relatively stable in recent years, the temporary judicial vacancies experienced for significant parts of the year reduced the number of full-time judges available to hear these cases.
Fortunately, with the able assistance of our colleagues from the Superior Court of Justice, who sat with us on an ad hoc basis, we were able to continue to hear and decide cases in a timely manner. We appreciate this cooperation.
Civil appeals continued to generally be heard within five months of perfection and criminal appeals within four.
The thorough and well-reasoned judgments of my colleagues continue to be delivered within a targeted six-month time period, except in extraordinary circumstances.
In addition to their caseload, judges of the Court of Appeal are engaged in a broad range of other activities, including committee work, judicial education, research, publishing and law reform.
A noteworthy example is the recently published report entitled Access to Justice in French, written by a committee co-chaired by our colleague on the Court of Appeal, Justice Paul Rouleau.
The Report is a thorough review of the significant challenges faced by Ontarians seeking French language access to justice in our courts.
I thank Justice Rouleau and his co-chair Paul Le Vey, as well as the members of their committee, for their thoughtful analysis and concrete recommendations.
The Court of Appeal continues to engage in its program of outreach activities across the Province.
Last October, we held a successful outreach meeting in Windsor, Ontario. In addition to meeting with the local Bench and Bar, the Court made a visit to the Faculty of Law at the University of Windsor.
Members of our Court had an opportunity to discuss current legal issues with students and faculty at this innovative and dynamic law school. As a result of the success of this initiative, Law school visits will be integrated into our future outreach activities. We look forward to visiting the University of Ottawa in 2013.
In April, the Court of Appeal held a formal outreach meeting with our judicial colleagues of the Superior Court of Justice in the Toronto Region.
This completed a cycle of judicial outreach meetings that the Court of Appeal began in 2003. We have now met with the judges of the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice in every region in Ontario.
Next month we will be holding our second joint meeting with the Québec Court of Appeal. Chief Justice Nicole Duval Hesler and her colleagues will be hosting us in Québec City.
These meetings between the two busiest appellate courts in Canada provide us with an opportunity to share experiences, learn from each other’s practices and discuss future challenges.
There is also much that we can learn from our own history. In this context, I am pleased to report that the noted historian, Christopher Moore, is well on his way to completing a book on the history of the Court of Appeal.
As I announced last year, the Law Foundation of Ontario has provided a grant, allowing Mr. Moore to undertake this ambitious project.
Last year Mr. Moore led a team of law students, from all the law schools in Ontario, as they combed through every published decision of the Court of Appeal to provide a thorough historical review of our jurisprudential history.
The book, scheduled to be completed in 2013, will make a valuable contribution to Canadian legal history.
Before completing my review of the activities of the Court of Appeal, I must mention one further challenge this Court will face in the year ahead. It is with bittersweet emotions that I observe that this is the last time Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor will join us on the dais for the Opening of Courts. Our beloved colleague recently announced that after many years of service on the Court of Appeal, he will be retiring on January 31st.
His contribution to this court and to the people of Ontario is unparalleled. I know that I speak for all of my colleagues on the Court of Appeal, as well as for the entire legal community, when I say that Justice O’Connor’s presence on the Bench will be severely missed. All of us here wish you the very best in your retirement.
In conclusion, this has been a productive and challenging year for the Court of Appeal and the justice system at large.
The Court of Appeal has seen substantial change in its judicial makeup. This has caused certain challenges and we certainly miss those judges who are no longer on our Bench. However, we are delighted to be joined by our four new colleagues.
I look forward to working with all my colleagues on the Court of Appeal as we face the busy year that lies ahead.
Similarly, I anticipate a productive year collaborating with all of our justice sector partners on the challenges that we collectively face.
I remain optimistic that if we continue to work in a cooperative spirit we can make concrete improvements that will benefit all Ontarians.
Thank you for your hard work this past year. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming year.