Family Law Cases in Canada’s Civil Courts Decline by 7% for 2019-2020

Data from the recently published 2019-2020 Civil Court Survey reveals a 7% year-over-year decline in family law cases in Canada. This decrease represents the largest decline in family law cases in 5 years. The data is for the period from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 and, in large part, does not reflect the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the justice system, including from court closures and stay-at-home orders. It is anticipated that there will be an even greater decline in family law cases in the 2020-2021 Civil Court Survey.

Of the more than 228,000 active family law cases during the 2019-2020 period, 47% were divorce cases. Of this number, almost three quarters involved requests for a divorce judgement to legally end a marriage; the remainder involved matters related to custody, access, and support. Notably, the data also shows that custody and access family law court cases during this period reported more activity than non-family cases, which the report on the data suggests may be “an indication of the amount of time and court resources they require”.

The Juristat report on family law cases in civil courts for 2019-2020 and the 2019-2020 Civil Court Survey data are available on the Statistics Canada website here: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210628/dq210628d-eng.htm.

« Profil des causes de droit de la famille au Canada, 2019-2020 » est disponible en français ici : https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210628/dq210628d-fra.htm.

Advocates’ Society Report Discusses the Future of Oral Advocacy in Canada

“The Right to be Heard: The Future of Advocacy in Canada” is a new report by the Advocates’ Society that discusses the future of oral advocacy in Canada’s justice system. The report also examines the history behind the right to be heard, considerations for the mode of hearing, and the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the justice system.

The Right to be Heard report is the culmination of months of research and consultations with judges, advocates in different practice areas, justice system participants, advocacy groups and others. This initative was led by the Modern Advocacy Task Force, which was established in spring 2020 “to make recommendations with respect to the future of oral advocacy in the Canadian justice system”.

This Final Report of the Modern Advocacy Task Force recognizes improvements made possible by modern technology during the pandemic but cautions that such changes to the justice system “should not be mistaken as a panacea for the grave challenges of access to justice, nor as an adequate replacement for in-person justice in all, or even most, cases.” 

According to the report, there are four core principles that lay the foundation for the Task Force’s recommendations:

  • The open court principle;
  • The imperative of access to justice;
  • The integrity of the court process; and
  • The principle of proportionality

In discussing the significance of the report, former Chief Justice of Canada and member of the Modern Advocacy Advisory Group, The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin noted that the report “offers a timely examination of the fundamental role of court advocacy in securing justice and how it can be preserved in a digital world.”

“The Right to be Heard: The Future of Advocacy in Canada”, published by the Advocates’ Society, is available here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/tld-documents.llnassets.com/0027000/27521/the_right_to_be_heard_the_future_of_advocacy_in_canada_digital.pdf.

Canadian Judicial Council Publishes Modernized Ethical Principles for Judges

The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) has released an updated version of Ethical Principles for Judges / Principes de déontologie judiciare. For more than twenty years, this publication has provided guidance on a range of questions within the judicial community.

While this new publication maintains a format similar to the 1998 volume, it raises questions about present day subjects such as the digital literacy of judges and addresses a range of important issues such as the need to be alert to “the history, experience and circumstances of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and to the diversity of cultures and communities that make up this country”. In discussing the importance of this new iteration of Ethical Principles for Judges, Chief Justice of Canada and Canadian Judicial Council Chairperson, the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, noted that, “[t]hese revised principles explore new and emerging issues relevant to our modern times”.

Ethical Principles for Judges includes sections on:

  • Judicial Independence;
  • Integrity and Respect;
  • Diligence and Competence;
  • Equality; and
  • Impartiality

Ethical Principles for Judges / Principes de déontologie judiciare, published by the Canadian Judicial Council, is available in English and French here: https://cjc-ccm.ca/sites/default/files/documents/2021/CJC_20-301_Ethical-Principles_Bilingual%20FINAL.pdf.

Parliamentary Committee Report Explores the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadian Immigration

“Immigration in the Time of COVID-19: Issues and Challenges” is a new report from the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM). The report explores the impacts of the pandemic on Canada’s immigration system, with particular emphasis on family reunification, the parent and grandparent program, and impacts for international students and foreign nationals with expired documents. The parliamentary committee report includes 38 recommendations for consideration by the House of Commons, including:

  • A fully digitized system that also maintains the option for paper applications (Recommendation 1);
  • Increasing financial supports for settlement services to facilitate digital literacy and access to digital tools (Recommendation 3);
  • Implementing measures to permit permanent residents with expired permanent resident cards who have faced renewal issues because of the pandemic to return to Canada (Recommendation 4); and,
  • Prioritizing the processing of family reunification applications in cases where family members are protected persons (Recommendation 8).

The CIMM Committee report is available in English here:  https://www.ourcommons.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/CIMM/report-5/. The report is available in French here: https://www.noscommunes.ca/DocumentViewer/fr/43-2/CIMM/rapport-5.

Annual Action Committee Report Highlights Progress on Access to Justice and Justice Sector Responses to the Pandemic

The national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters has released its annual progress report on the Justice Development Goals. The report offers insights on developments in nine areas deemed essential for better access to justice in Canada. The nine areas are based on the goals identified in the Action Committee’s 2013 “A Roadmap for Change” report which highlighted the need to:

  • Refocus the justice system to reflect and address everyday legal problems
  • Make essential legal services available to everyone
  • Make courts and tribunals fully accessible multi-service centres for public dispute resolution
  • Make coordinated and appropriate multidisciplinary family services easily accessible
  • Create local and national access to justice implementation mechanisms
  • Promote a sustainable, accessible and integrated justice agenda through legal education
  • Enhance the innovation capacity of the civil and family justice system
  • Support access to justice to promote evidence-based policy making
  • Promote coherent, integrated and sustained funding strategies

This year’s Action Committee report also includes a section on the justice sector’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Canada’s Justice Development Goals 2020: Challenge and Change” is available in English here: http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/sites/default/files/jdgreport2020challengechange.pdf.

Pour télécharger << Objectifs de développement en matière de justice du Canada de 2020 : Défis et changements >> cliquez ici : http://www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca/sites/default/files/odjrapport2020defichangements.pdf.

Canadian Judicial Council Publishes 3 New Handbooks for Self-Represented Litigants

The Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) has announced the publication of a new Civil Law Handbook, Criminal Law Handbook and Family Law Handbook for self-represented litigants. According to a May 5th press release, “[t]he goal of the handbooks is to help those who are not represented by legal counsel to better prepare for court proceedings, and to provide judges with tools they can recommend to such persons to help them access the courts.”

The handbooks were developed in conjunction with the Judicial Education Society of British Columbia and provide useful information on how to obtain electronic access to statutes, regulations and forms.

The three new handbooks are available on the CJC website in English here: https://cjc-ccm.ca/en/what-we-do/initiatives/representing-yourself-court and in French here: https://cjc-ccm.ca/fr/ce-que-nous-faisons/initiatives/se-representer-soi-meme-devant-un-tribunal.

Law Commission of Ontario’s New Paper Explores the use of Artificial Intelligence, Automated Decision-Making and Algorithms in Canada’s Justice System

“Regulating AI: Critical Issues and Choices” is the second in a series of papers by the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) that seeks to examine the use of artificial intelligence (AI), automated decision-making (ADM) and algorithms in Canada’s justice system. The focus of this paper is on regulatory frameworks for AI and ADM systems that support decision-making. Understanding the implications of AI and ADM systems and how to regulate them has become increasingly important in Canada and throughout the world. This paper contemplates a range of important questions surrounding the regulation of these systems, including: how AI and ADM should be defined for regulatory purposes; how and when governments should be required to disclose their use of AI and ADM; what role “ethical AI” might play in government regulation of AI and ADM; and whether government regulation of AI and ADM should promote innovation and/or human rights.

“Regulating AI: Critical Issues and Choices” by Nye Thomas, Erin Chochla and Susie Lindsay is available on the Law Commission of Ontario’s website here: https://www.lco-cdo.org/en/the-lco-releases-a-new-report-regulating-ai-critical-issues-and-choices/.

Social Security Tribunal of Canada Publishes Evaluation on Plain Language Decision-Writing

The Social Security Tribunal of Canada (SST) has published an evaluation on their progress in writing decisions in plain language. The evaluation was spurred by a 2017 external program review that found that many SST clients faced significant obstacles to “receiving administrative justice in a simple, clear and timely manner”. The recently published evaluation is the result of a 3-year effort to shift to a more people-centred model that sees decisions written with less legal jargon and that are easier to understand by people who read at a grade 9 reading level or higher.

The evaluation, published on the Government of Canada website, includes details on the methodology used for the evaluation, the impact of training on different aspects of decision-writing, the readability scorecard for decisions in both English and French, and other information. “An Evaluation of How Easy it is to Read Decisions of the Social Security Tribunal” is available online here: https://www1.canada.ca/en/sst/plainlanguagereport.html.

CBA Report Examines Justice Issues Resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic

A new report by the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) examines various impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the delivery of legal services in Canada. The report is the result of consultations and research carried out by the specially formed CBA Task Force on Justice Issues Arising from COVID-19.

The “No Turning Back” report includes a discussion of the ways that Canada and other countries are meeting the justice challenges presented by the pandemic through modified processes and other justice system changes. The report also presents a discussion of ways to mitigate risks that might be associated with the adoption of new measures aimed at delivering justice in the midst of the pandemic.

No Turning Back: CBA Task Force Report on Justice Issues Arising from COVID-19 is available online here: https://www.cba.org/CBAMediaLibrary/cba_na/PDFs/Publications%20And%20Resources/2021/CBATaskForce.pdf.

New Book Examines What is Working and Not Working to Improve Access to Civil and Family Justice

The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law edited by Trevor C.W. Farrow and Lesley A. Jacobs is a newly published book that provides an in-depth look at what is working and not working to improve access to civil and family justice in Canada.

The Justice Crisis uses new empirical research to explore the value associated with the provision of an effective justice system and the costs – individual and collective – of not providing accessible justice. The national and international importance of and the need for this kind of research is widely acknowledged.

Contributors to The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law include: Carolyn Carter, Thomas A. Cromwell, Ab Currie, Matthew Dylag, Trevor C.W. Farrow, Heather Heavin, Lesley A. Jacobs, Devon Kapoor, Michaela Keet, Jennifer Koshan, Herbert M. Kritzer, Moktar Lamari, Marylène Leduc, M. Jerry McHale, Lisa Moore, Janet Mosher, Pierre Noreau, Mitchell Perlmutter, Catherine Piché, Noel Semple, Lorne Sossin, Michael Trebilcock, Wanda Wiegers and David Wiseman.

The book’s foreword is written by The Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell, CC.

The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law is part of the 7-year Cost of Justice project led by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. The Cost of Justice project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law was published by UBC Press and is available here: www.ubcpress.ca/the-justice-crisis.

View the press release for The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law online here: https://news.yorku.ca/2020/09/02/new-evidence-on-the-justice-crisis-making-the-case-for-reform/.