Judge denounces ‘shameful’ wait times for trials

An Ontario judge recently condemned the ever-increasing wait times for trial dates in Toronto courts. Calling the backlog of civil cases “shameful,” Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee dismissed a motion on July 30 to move a personal injury case to Toronto from Barrie, Ont.

The case was launched by Kimberley Ewing, a 48-year-old woman who suffered a serious brain injury on June 10, 2009 after she was hit by a car and then run over by a pickup truck in Toronto. As a result of her injuries, she is unable to work and requires round-the-clock supervision.

Ewing’s case was moved to Barrie where trial dates are available as early as November 2013, whereas in Toronto, the Superior Court is currently scheduling trials for the fall of 2016.

“For a client who has already gone through two or three years and sometimes more of litigation, it’s just unacceptable to find out that the earliest trial date the client can get is over 2 1/2 years away,” says Roger Oatley, a founding partner of Oatley Vigmond LLP and counsel for Ewing.

Oatley says the current wait for a trial in Toronto is the longest he’s ever seen it and he anticipates the situation will only worsen over time.

“The system has effectively broken down and it is going to get much worse as time goes by unless governments take the situation very, very seriously and deal with it urgently,” he tells Legal Feeds.

The fundamental problem is that the justice system is severely under-resourced, says Oatley.

“We’ve had an enormous increase in the population in the GTA but virtually no increase in the number of judges or courtroom space,” he says. “The judges are doing the best they can but the problem is just going to get worse unless governments step in and provide the judges and the courtrooms to get the cases through the system.”

Ultimately, the litigants are the ones who suffer the most from the delays, he says, adding many of them accept settlements because they can’t afford to wait for a trial, essentially forcing them out of the justice system.

On top of that, Oatley says it can be very frustrating to try to explain these delays to clients.

“The hardship for the client who’s in a serious injury case [where] they haven’t had any income and they need care, is to find out there’s that long of a wait. It just engenders despair,” he says.

Oatley says other aspects of the justice system need updating as well. For instance, court offices are not automated so lawyers and litigants are required to go in person to have someone pull their paper court file to find out where their case is being held and oftentimes delays are caused by files that are lost. The government should fund an electronic system for better efficiency, he suggests. 

“It’s the whole system that’s in serious trouble,” he says.

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