Access to Justice and Security for Costs


As discussed many times, the BC Supreme Court operates on a “loser pays” system generally requiring a losing litigant to pay the winner’s costs and disbursements.  These costs awards can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars and can easily exceed a litigant’s ability to pay.
Although the BC Supreme Court has the ability to require a Plaintiff to pay security for costs ahead of trial, for the obvious reason of ensuring access to justice this discretion is rarely exercised.  This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In this week’s case (Hughes v. Hughes) the Plaintiff sued her parents for various harm she claims she suffered due to their actions many years ago.  The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that it was an abuse of process.  The Court dismissed this motion finding that while the allegations may have been somewhat unique they “essentially amount to battery, breach of trust and fraud, all of which are well-recognized causes of action“.
The Defendant further argued that the case was bound to fail due to limitation issues and requested Security for Costs.  The Court agreed that while the case may be limitation barred that was an issue for trial.  In dismissing the application for costs security Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:

[18] The defendants seek, in the alternative, an order that the plaintiff post security for costs. They say she has no history of steady employment and would not likely be able to pay costs if the action is dismissed. The plaintiff says in an affidavit that she is employed as a pre-school teacher, but gives no particulars of that employment.

[19] The law governing security for costs was summarized by Goepel J. in Bronson v. Hewitt, 2007 BCSC 1751. Although the court has inherent jurisdiction to order an individual resident in the jurisdiction to post security for costs, that jurisdiction should be exercised cautiously, sparingly and only under very special or egregious circumstances.

[41] …For good reason, individual and corporate plaintiffs have always been treated differently. Absent special circumstances, corporate shareholders are entitled to avail themselves of the protection of a limited liability company to avoid personal exposure for costs: P.G. Restaurant Ltd.  v. Northern Interior Regional Health Board et al., 2006 BCSC 1680. An order for security for costs prevents the principals of a corporate plaintiff from hiding behind the corporate veil and, as noted by McGarry V.C. in Pearson, protects “the community against litigious abuses by artificial persons manipulated by natural persons.”

[42]  With individuals, the fundamental concern has always been access to the courts. Access to justice is as important today as it was in 1885 when Lord Bowen declared in Cowell that “the general rule is that poverty is no bar to a litigant”. Individuals, no matter how poor, have always been granted access to our courts regardless of their ability to pay a successful defendant’s costs. Only in egregious circumstances have individuals been ordered to post security for costs.

[20] Examples of such special or egregious circumstances include situations where the plaintiff is or has been a party in multiple other actions (Louie v. Louie, [1998] B.C.J. No. 2097), or where the plaintiff has been unable to produce any evidence in support of his claim many years after commencing the action (Rotvold v. Rocky Mountain Diesel Ltd., [1997] B.C.J. No. 1758). No comparable special circumstances have been shown to exist here and the evidence as to the plaintiff’s alleged impecuniosity is entirely speculative.

[21] The application for security for costs must therefore be dismissed.

[22] The plaintiff seeks an order striking out the statement of defence because the defendants failed to attend an examination for discovery. At the time, the defendants were requesting production of certain documents. Those documents had not been received and, until shortly before the scheduled examination for discovery, counsel for the defendants understood that the former counsel for the plaintiff was still assembling them.

Hughes v. Hughes, Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court, Mr. Justice Smith, Rule 9, Rule 9-5, Rule 9-5(1), Security for Costs

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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