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Increased Court Costs Impairs Access to Justice

Increased Court Costs Impairs Access to Justice

April 5, 2019 | Bridgepoint Financial |Posted in Viewpoint

By: Amanda Bafaro

Because disbursements aren’t already high enough, the Ontario government has increased the fees associated with the filing of many of the most common civil court documents as of April 1, 2019.

This is yet another burden for the already financially strained plaintiff lawyer who must bear the increased costs at the same time that cases are taking longer to resolve while personal injury settlement values have dropped precipitously in recent years.

From an access to justice perspective, this will also unfairly impact litigants who pay these fees out of pocket.

For the insurance industry, this represents a significant increase in the overall cost of litigation. What impact, if any, might that have on ever-escalating auto premiums here in Ontario (with ever-decreasing coverage)?

Where some increases are modest, such as the $9 hike to file a statement of claim, others have skyrocketed: the cost to file a motion record has doubled from $160 to $320, and the cost to file a Trial Record has increased from $405 to $810! Add on the cost to have someone attend the court to file the document, you’re looking at $1,000 to set an action down for trial. Surely there’s a message in the doubling of that item, likely rooted in the lack of civil judicial resources following R. v. Jordan[1].

For a link to the full details of the cost increases, click here.

If the Court is looking for ways to curb the number of cases being set down for trial, and thereby reduce the court resources devoted to trial processes, these cost increases will undoubtedly have an impact, ultimately at the expense of accident victims and their counsel.

Many lawyers and law firms are already struggling to generate sufficient cash flow for their contingency fee-based practices. These administrative cost increases will further tax the ability for many to move their clients’ cases forward in a timely manner, with some potentially waiting for funds before they file documents.

Whatever the reason for the increases, they will impact cash reserve requirements and overall expenditures for the plaintiff personal injury lawyer and by association harm the accident victims depending on them to pursue their claims through the court system. It’s tough to envision a policy change more in conflict with the sentiments of our former Chief Justice of Canada, The Honourable Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin, who recognized the importance of access to justice in our society and referenced on many occasions:

“The history of the Bar Association and of the judiciary in Canada is that of the struggle to provide Canadians with an efficient and affordable justice system. However, the cost of legal services today is unfortunately a factor which limits access to justice for many Canadians…The cost of justice, which could represent taking out a second mortgage on the house or using money saved for retirement or for the children’s education, should not be so high.” [2]

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[1] R. v. Jordan, [2016] 1 SCR 631
[2] Bourgoin v. Ouellette et al. (2009), 2009 CanLII 27242 (NB QB), 343 N.B.R. (2d) 58, [2009] N.B.J. No. 164 (Q.B.) (QL)

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