I am continuing, with these jotting, a sporadic tradition of offering up some commentary on the legal year just past.
To my mind, one of the biggest legal events of 2019 was the maturing of the Civil Resolution Tribunal into a court with actual teeth, as our Attorney General stuck his toe into constitutional waters, to see if anyone would notice when he diverted all motor vehicle cases where damages are unlikely to exceed $50,000, to the provincial bureaucrats who operate the CRT. These cases will no longer be adjudicated by independent federally appointed judges, or, in most cases represented by lawyers, since you need the Tribunal’s permission to use one.
Most of the press surrounding the whole issue of resolving ICBC injury claims seems to have focused on the $5,000 cap for claiming compensation for minor claims, and not on the stealthy rise to power of the CRT, but I predict that future legal historians will mark 2019 as a turning point in the evolution of BC’s legal landscape, as more and more disputes of all types are forced into the CRT, and away from the traditional court system.
It will take several years before the cases presently before the courts (and there are a lot of them, including a mass of cases filed just in advance of the the changes ) have meandered through the system, so there few changes visible yet to those of us who toil in the courts, Presumably, as fewer court resources are consumed dealing with ICBC cases courts and judges will be freed up to deal with cases pending in other areas of law, where litigants languish for years before their cases can be heard.
A prediction of shorter wait times, of course, presumes that the government won’t claw back funding to the courts to reward itself for inventing the CRT and creating some efficiencies. Given their track record in starving the legal aid system for decades, and their chronic under-funding of court services, which processes much of the mundane work of the courts, such as probate applications, uncontested divorces and the like, probably not a smart prediction.( Of note, we ended the year much as we began with seven vacancies of the Supreme Court Bench!)
It also presumes that that the province’s personal injury lawyers will go away quietly, which isn’t likely to happen. A year end sampling of lawyer’s TV ads reveals that litigating disability claims are the new flavour of the month, as PI lawyers start to re-tool.
2019 did see the government blink on the long festering legal aid funding file, but only when a strike by legal aid lawyer become imminent. The extra funds allocated averted the strike, but I have an uneasy feeling that the problem hasn’t gone away.
A copy of Jody Wilson Raybould’s new book From Where I stand found its way into my stocking on Christmas morning, which reminded me of the biggest legal story on the national stage this past year; the spectacle of our Prime Minister trying to bully his Attorney General into meddling with a criminal prosecution for political ends. Perhaps a case can be made for some mandatory rudimentary training for non-lawyers who attain public office, to instruct them in the role of the courts, and of the Attorney General.
2019 also saw the unfrocking of the Province’s first Chief Justice, as statutes of him were removed from the lobby of the Law Society building and toppled from the courtyard of the New Westminster Law Courts in a nod to the Truth and Reconciliation report, and the passing of a new Law Society regulation requiring all BC lawyers to take 6 hours of cultural sensitivity training to improve their understanding of first nations issues. The President of the Society, in her year end message seemed surprised that some lawyers objected to being told what to say, or what to think.
A similar theme prevailed at the the annual general meeting of the Law Society, where a fractious membership told the Benchers sharply to stop trying to facilitate the introduction of half- trained “legal service providers” or para-legals, in family law cases.
And so, as we watch the walls of the new Abbotsford courthouse slowly rise, and brace ourselves for the advent of more stringent rules for client identification, and the new rules requiring us to inquire of client’s where they got their money, we bid a fond farewell to 2019.