"The Long Tradition of Judicial Copying" Discussed by the Supreme Court of Canada

In reinstating a successful damages award, the Supreme Court of Canada had the opportunity to discuss if and when it is ok for a trial judge to copy a lawyer’s submissions in their reasons for judgement.
In today’s case (Cojocaru v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Centre) the infant Plaintiff suffered brain injury during birth at BC’s Women’s Hospital and Health Care Centre.  He successfully sued for malpractice and was awarded damages for his past and future care needs and other losses.  The trial judgement “reproduced large portions of the submissions of the plaintiffs.“.  The Court of Appeal overturned the judgement finding this judicial “copying” displaced ‘the presumption of judicial integrity and impartiality’.,
The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed and reinstated the damages awarded at trial (although differed in who the liable parties were allowing the cross appeals of some of the defendants).  In doing so Canada’s highest Court provided the following reasons discussing “the long tradition of judicial copying“.
[10]                          This was a complex case involving many issues. The trial judgment, rendered some time after a lengthy trial, consisted of 368 paragraphs.  Only 47 were predominantly in the judge’s own words; the balance of 321 paragraphs was copied from the plaintiffs’ submissions.  This raises the concern that the trial judge did not put his mind to the issues, the evidence and the law as he was sworn to do, but simply incorporated the plaintiffs’ submissions.
[11]                          The question before us is whether a trial judge’s decision should be set aside because his reasons incorporate large portions of material prepared by others, in this case the plaintiffs…
[35]                          The concern about copying in the judicial context is not that the judge is taking credit for someone else’s prose, but rather that it may be evidence that the reasons for judgment do not reflect the judge’s thinking. They are not the judge’s reasons, but those of the person whose prose the judge copied.  Avoiding this impression is a good reason for discouraging extensive copying.  But it is not the copying per se that renders the process of judgment-writing unfair.  A judge may copy extensively from the briefs in setting out the facts, the legal principles and the arguments, and still assess all the issues and arguments comprehensively and impartially.  No one could reasonably contend that the process has failed in such a case.
[36]                          To sum up, extensive copying and failure to attribute outside sources are in most situations practices to be discouraged.  But lack of originality and failure to attribute sources do not in themselves rebut the presumption of judicial impartiality and integrity.  This occurs only if the copying is of such a character that a reasonable person apprised of the circumstances would conclude that the judge did not put her mind to the evidence and the issues and did not render an impartial, independent decision…
[49]                          In summary, courts in Canada and elsewhere have held that copying in reasons for judgment is not, in itself, grounds for setting the judge’s decision aside.  However, if the incorporation of the material of others would lead a reasonable person apprised of all the relevant facts to conclude that the trial judge has not put his or her mind to the issues and made an independent decision based on the evidence and the law, the presumption of judicial integrity is rebutted and the decision may be set aside.
[50]                          This does not negate the fact that, as a general rule, it is good judicial practice for a judge to set out the contending positions of the parties on the facts and the law, and explain in his or her own words her conclusions on the facts and the law.  The process of casting reasons for judgment in the judge’s own words helps to ensure that the judge has independently considered the issues and come to grips with them.  As the cases illustrate, the importance of this may vary with the nature of the case.  In some cases, the issues are so clear that adoption of one party’s submissions or draft order may be uncontroversial.  By contrast, in complex cases involving disputed facts and legal principles, the best practice is to discuss the issues, the evidence and the judge’s conclusions in the judge’s own words.  The point remains, however, that a judge’s failure to adhere to best practices does not, without more, permit the judge’s decision to be overturned on appeal.  
 

adequate reasons for judgement, bc injury law, Cojocaru v. British Columbia Women's Hospital and Health Centre

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ERIK
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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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