The courts recently proposed implementing several assize weeks to better accommodate long chambers (two-plus hours) applications during civil litigations. This issue has been an ongoing concern for the past two years, causing matters that may not proceed in court to be bumped from the chambers list.
“It’s certainly been a problem getting dates,” says Michael Dew, a Vancouver civil litigator.
At times, Dew claims to have had problems booking long chambers dates from an increasing amount of lawyers seeking appointments at the same time.
“This is a good example of our court taking some initiative to solve a problem, and I hope that counsel will take advantage of it,” says Dean Crawford, a civil litigator and vice president of the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia branch.
For Crawford, the former method for chambers applications is “frustrating for both clients and lawyers” who have prepared for a hearing and arrive at the court “only to learn that you’re not going to be able to proceed.”
In a press release from the Supreme Court of B.C., Chief Justice Robert Bauman said although the project is designed to improve matters, it can not “guarantee that every member on the assize list will be heard” and counsel “must be available to proceed on short notice during the assize week.”
“Like many things, this is an initiative where it’s going to require the co-operation of counsel to get things done efficiently for their clients,” says Crawford. “So it would be my hope that counsel will do that, and take advantage of this to their own benefit.”
“I think it will allow parties more certainty about getting before the court,“ says Dennis Hori, civil litigator and president of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia.
Hori mainly practises in Kamloops, B.C., and claims that Kamloops currently has a similar system to the proposed pilot project that works “quite well.”
Although supportive of the new pilot project, Dew believes the current process for short chambers applications could also be improved. From an oversupply of lawyers waiting to be addressed in short chambers proceedings, Dew says this is a “serious problem” that needs to be improved through a program similar to the new pilot project.
The oversupply came shortly after a new set of Supreme Court Civil Rules were implemented in July 2010 for governing civil proceedings in the British Columbia Supreme Court. Several changes were made to chambers procedures, requiring applications to be filed and have a hearing date scheduled once submitted, instead of a hearing date scheduled after an application was responded to.
About a year after the new policies were in place, the CBA-BC conducted a survey of its members to analyze how practising lawyers found the new policies.
Roughly 55 per cent of survey members either strongly disagreed or disagreed with the new system, while about 50 per cent preferred the old method for chambers applications. About 55 per cent of participants also claimed to have most of their applications rescheduled from their original date.
According to the CBA-BC, changes to the chambers procedures provoked a large number of comments from lawyers. One survey participant claimed “chambers seems to be busier and a higher chance of getting bumped than was the case under the old rules.”
A survey participant also stated the “new system seems to have created a backlog of chambers applications in Vancouver.”
However in order to be placed on the new assize list, applications must require more than two hours, and be less than two days for hearing. Other criteria include approval from all parties involved, as well as an open availability for three days within a scheduled five-day assize week.
Beginning this month, the pilot projects hearing dates are scheduled for six weeks throughout the year, with the last available date scheduled for May 6.
According to Crawford, under the normal process openings wouldn’t be available until May at the earliest.
“A two-week wait as opposed to a four-month wait is quite preferable,” says Crawford, who notes although the chambers application process was formerly a problem, he believes that this pilot project is a “good step to try address it.”
Update 2:50 pm: Comments from Dennis Hori added.