Canada looks to overhaul justice

Lawyers in Canada must become more attuned to clients and more focused on early settlement of disputes, according to a Canadian Bar Association inquiry which calls for sweeping reforms of the country's justice system.

A 100-page report on the reform of Canada's civil justice system, compiled by the CBA's Task Force on Systems of Civil Justice, will be released this week at the association's annual meeting and 11th Commonwealth Law Conference.

Like Lord Woolf's recent inquiry, the task force was set up to find ways to reduce costs and delays in Canada's justice system. It proposes reforms to encourage early problem solving and dispute resolution to settle civil cases. And it recommends an enhanced role for judges, making them more involved in the management and resolution of cases. Judges would need new skills for this role, as would court administrators.

It is hoped a reformed system would be more user-friendly and include mechanisms to better inform the public about the legal system as well as ensuring litigants are more at ease during the litigation process.

The report suggests a multi-option civil justice system would help eliminate the access problems, lengthy delays and unacceptably high costs that have gradually eroded public confidence in existing civil litigation processes.

“If this enhanced system and the report's other recommendations are implemented, the civil justice system will be more accessible, more accommodating of a larger volume of disputes and better able to respond to disputants in a timely, understandable and cost-efficient way,” said task force chair Eleanore Cronk and a senior Toronto litigator with Fasken Campbell Godfrey.

The task force also recommends a number of dispute resolution options, including settlement and negotiations by the lawyers for the parties and non-binding mediation, as well as more formal judicial settlement conferences, mini-trials and adjudication.

The report says implementation of the reforms would require fundamental changes in a number of areas affecting lawyers, courts, the government and the public.

It also recommends that courts should have point-of-entry advice to members of the public on dispute resolution options and the community services available.

Information should also be made available through self-help publications, interactive computer systems, legal clinics and seminars, the report says.