October 30, 2017
Department of Justice
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
Attention: The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould,
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Dear Minister Wilson-Raybould:
Re: Appointment of Supreme Court Justices in British Columbia
I am a barrister carrying on business at Harris & Brun Law Corporation on West Georgia Street in the City of Vancouver. Our firm is a well-established civil litigation boutique of a modest 12 lawyers. Over the past several weeks I have spent numerous hours preparing for a trial that was scheduled to commence today in the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The trial is a complicated personal injury matter with 12 expert witnesses involved including the plaintiff’s general practitioner, two expert physiatrists, an expert registered psychologist, an expert vocational consultant, two expert orthopaedic surgeons, an expert neurologist, an expert forensic psychiatrist, and two expert economists. In many instances more than one report was authored per expert. Five legal actions commenced by the plaintiff have been ordered to be tried together due to the indivisibility of the alleged injuries. This means that the plaintiff, all five defendants, and numerous lay witnesses were also scheduled to appear over the course of the trial. Arrangements had been made with both the courthouse and off-site service providers for two witnesses to appear via live video conference link. We were advised on Friday, October 27, 2017, that our trial had been placed onto the “overflow list” along with seven other trials scheduled to commence today.
Upon arriving at the courthouse this morning with 10 banker’s boxes of documentation in tow, I was ordered to appear before The Honourable Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson. Chief Justice Hinkson called each of the eight matters on the overflow list in turn and formally apologized for the shortage of Superior Court justices to each of us. He urged us to write a letter to our Member of Parliament respecting this important and pressing issue. I have opted to write directly to you as both our Minister of Justice and as a fellow lawyer to express my concern respecting this dire situation.
A trial being adjourned due only to the lack of an available judge is a frustrating access to justice issue that seems to be proliferating in British Columbia. Mr. Lyle Harris, Q.C., of our office, had a matter adjourned last Monday for lack of an available judge. Mr. Narvinder Gill, also of our office, had a matter on the same overflow list that my matter was on this morning and he received the same apology from Chief Justice Hinkson in his case that I received in mine. Thus, three of our twelve lawyers have had three trials adjourned in the past two weeks due to the shortage of available Superior Court justices in British Columbia. This reflects poorly on our system of justice.
The necessary time and resources that we have spent preparing for these trials has come at great financial expense to our clients and great personal expense to us in the currency of time spent away from our loved ones on evenings and weekends without an end having been achieved. This, of course, pales in comparison to the exorbitant expert fees that have been paid and will continue to be paid including late cancellation fees and the necessary fees that will be required for updating what will quickly become outdated expert reports. All of these costs will be incurred again when our matter is (hopefully) heard years from now.
I am advised that British Columbia is presently eight justices short of the normal complement in our Supreme Court and that a further five justices are scheduled to retire in the coming months as they approach the mandatory age of retirement, which will only worsen the circumstances. This is a drain on already overused court resources. Our province is losing hundreds of hours of judicial time each month due to lingering vacancies on our Superior Court bench. The hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, lost due to these delays causes an overly heavy burden that is shouldered by private litigants, institutional litigants, and taxpayers of the province alike.
As you are well aware, the Federal Government has an important role to play in the timely delivery of justice. The constitutional responsibility for the appointment of Superior Court justices rests with you. I appreciate that no corner must be cut in vetting applicants and determining the most qualified candidates to fill the vacancies. Further, I have no doubt that you are diligently working to remedy this pressing and most important issue with the utmost efficiency. I simply write, as a frustrated Officer of the Court, to request that you move as expeditiously as possible to restore timely access to justice for all British Columbians.
Yours very truly,
HARRIS & BRUN LAW CORPORATION
JENNIFER J.L. BRUN
cc: The Honourable Hedy Fry
MP Vancouver Centre
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6.