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LITIGANTS in the Canadian state of Ontario will have to undergo compulsory mediation before they can take their cases to the courts under plans unveiled by Charles Harnick, the state's attorney general.
Harnick announced his decision to introduce compulsory mediation in all non-family civil law suits on 31 January.
Describing the plan as "a turning point in the history of Ontario's justice", he said it would be introduced in Toronto by mid-1997 and across the rest of the province over the next four years.
"Cases will automatically be referred to mediation after a statement of defence is delivered," he said. "Parties will be permitted to opt out of mediation only with the leave of the master or judge, if their case is inappropriate for the mediation process."
Robert Harrison, chairman of the litigation department at the Toronto office of Fasken Campbell Godfrey, the domestic arm of the international Canadian firm Fasken Martineau, claimed that the announcement had been broadly welcomed.
"A pilot project under which every fourth civil case had to undergo mediation has proved to be quite successful in that a significant number of cases have been resolved before going to the courts," he said. But Harrison added that there was a need for flexibility to be built into the system.
"If you're a company chasing a scoundrel who owes you money, then mediation is just going to delay things," he said.