Bill 44 – BC Government Taking Civil Disputes Away From Judges?
As previously noted, BC’s Government and Judiciary are involved in a public row with the Government accusing the Courts of being inefficient and the Judiciary responding with complaints of underfunding. Additionally these two branches of Government are involved in litigation with the BC Court of Appeal recently upholding an order forcing the Government to produce otherwise confidential Cabinet submissions in a salary dispute with the BC Provincial Court.
Enter Bill 44. This legislation, which just passed first reading, seeks to create “Civil Resolution Tribunals” which will run side by side with BC Courts. Their jurisdiction is anticipated to be ever-expanding by simple Order in Council with the ability of the Government to include anything that “could be dealt with by a Claim in Provincial Court under the Small Claims Act”.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this scheme is set out in Section 20 which holds that, except in very limited circumstances, parties must “represent themselves“. It does not take much imagination to understand that stripping people of the right to a lawyer provides a great advantage to institutional litigants.
The Government sets out that this legislation is designed to create “accessible, speedy, economical, informal, and flexible” dispute resolution. Although these goals are laudable, on scrutiny the Government does not appear to put its money where its mouth is with Section 9 specifically exempting claims against the Government from the jurisdiction of these tribunals.
As Vaughn Palmer points out, this Bill is included in a “loaded up” legislative agenda making full scrutiny difficult with limited time. Legislation taking disputes away from the judiciary and further stripping people of the right to representation deserves public scrutiny. I imagine BC’s Provincial Court judges will have strong opinions on the matter as well. Whether these are voiced remains to be seen.