Earlier this week Chief Justice Morawetz gave his address at the traditional “Opening of the Courts” for Ontario. Calling it the “Opening of the Courts” is likely very confusing for the general public.
To be clear, the Courts were not “closed” before that time. But every year around this time we have a ceremony to “open” them in pomp and circumstance. If you like legal tradition, then this is the place to be! If you weren’t there live (which you likely were not), you can catch the ceremony here as it was publicly posted on YouTube.
The Opening of the Courts presents an opportunity for the Chief Justice to make a state of the union type of address acknowledging how the Courts and the Administration of Justice is performing from an insider’s perspective. It presents the Chief Justice with an opportunity to announce plans or changes moving forward. When the Chief Justice speak, lawyer across Ontario listen very attentively. Here are a few interesting comments from the Chief Justice himself from the Opening of the Courts which caught my attention:
“References to the Queen have now transitioned to the King. Our Registrars now refer to the King when opening and closing court.”
“The current situation (in Ontario Civil Courts) cannot continue. If the timeline between the commencement of a civil matter and the trial is 4 to 5 years, the civil justice system is simply not responding to the litigants.“
“return to in-person hearings, especially for substantive and complex matters, is an integral part of the judicial system and essential to the administration of justice.”
“Meaningful access to justice requires in-person hearings for many self-represented litigants. It is also essential to building the core ingredients of a strong and healthy bar — mentorship and collegiality”
“There is no going back: virtual hearings have become a permanent fixture for court proceedings”
“civil proceedings are an area that is ripe for major change…..(The Court) runs the risk of becoming irrelevant in civil proceedings if action is not taken.”
“The Rules of Civil Procedure were meant to provide us with a roadmap to resolution; but instead, civil proceedings have become bogged down by process. They have become a maze that is difficult for many to navigate. They have become out of step with the purpose they were meant to serve”
In commenting on this, the Chief Justice commented that there out to be a new and more simple path forward. There looks to be a complete re-writing of the Rules of Civil Procedure within 3 years.