14 April 2012

Supreme Court Protocol for Case Planning in High Conflict Cases

I have learned that the Supreme Court of British Columbia has developed a protocol for the appointment of case planning judges in high conflict family law cases. This process helps to address a gap between the Supreme Court Civil Rules which provide for case planning conferences, and the appointment of a case planning judge to actively manage a case through to trial, and the Supreme Court Family Rules which do not.

The protocol borrows somewhat from civil Practice Direction 4, "Case Planning and Judicial Management of Actions," and provides that a party may address the appointment of a case planning judge at the initial Judicial Case Conference. If the judge or master hearing the JCC agrees that the appointment is appropriate, the judge or master will make a recommendation, with reasons, to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. If the Chief Justice agrees, which I expect would be the case with most recommendations, a case planning judge will be appointed.

If a case has already been through the JCC process and contested applications have been heard, a party may request a JCC for the purposes of addressing the appointment of a case planning judge through trial scheduling. (With such requests, trial scheduling will book a half hour instead of the usual hour and a half.) At the JCC, the requesting party will explain why the appointment would be appropriate, and the JCC judge will make a recommendation to the Chief Justice if he or she agrees.

As an alternative, counsel may write to the Chief Justice through trial scheduling to request that at a case planning judge be appointed, but the JCC approach is preferred. (In my view, requests of this nature should be reserved for circumstances in which the attendance of the parties at the JCC, as is usually required, would be significantly inconvenient or put a party at risk, or where the request for the appointment is made with the agreement of both parties.) Remember that correspondence with the court in family law matters is governed by civil Practice Direction 27, "Corresponding with the Court."