02 October 2011

Changes to Vancouver Chambers Practice in Effect Monday

Chambers practice in the Supreme Court's Vancouver registry has been extraordinarily difficult for some time now. "Chambers" is where applications for orders before trial and applications for final orders on affidavit evidence are heard, and on any given day in Vancouver there might be forty or more applications set to be heard by a master and a twenty or more applications, usually lengthy ones, to be heard by a judge. However, each day only one judge and one master are assigned specifically to chambers and there's only four and a half hours in the court day!

Long wait times are nothing new but it has been increasingly difficult to get dates for lengthy chambers applications in reasonable time, and the overflow list of applications set for a specific date that could not be put before a judge or master is itself overflowing. (The court's list of available dates is publicly available on the court's website.) Opinion among the bar is mixed as to the cause, but three theories have risen to the top of the pond:
  1. there aren't enough judges or masters;
  2. court services is underfunded and there aren't enough registry staff; or,
  3. the new Supreme Court Rules are somehow to blame.
Personally, I'm more inclined to number two; I know there are times in New Westminster and Vancouver where the court registry is drained of staff to serve as clerks in court and there still aren't enough staff!

Regardless of the ultimate cause, Chief Justice Bauman has announced (PDF) changes coming into effect in Vancouver on Monday 3 October 2011 intended to address these problems.
  1. Registry staff will automatically bounce all applications where an application record is not received before the deadline prescribed in the court rules — 4:00pm on the business day that is one full business day before the date set for the hearing — rather than have them bounced by the court clerk.
  2. Masters' chambers will be split into two lists, general civil and family law, and an extra master will be assigned to chambers when the list is full.
  3. All applications set for judges' chambers under two hours will be sent off to Courtroom 31 to be referred to other courtrooms as judges become available, rather than having everyone mill around in the court registry.
  4. Unscheduled applications, usually applications for short leave and for urgent orders, will go up to judges' or masters' chambers as before, but will be heard at the discretion of the presiding judge or master rather than automatically heard after short matters are heard.
I'm not sure what the practical results of 1, 3 and 4 will be, but I am excited about 2. This is the way things used to be until family and civil chambers were merged a number of years ago, and the assignment of an extra master will really help to clear the chambers lists.