Who Should Address Costs Following a Mistrial?

Reasons for judgment were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing a technical procedural issue, namely which judge should address a costs application following a mistrial.
In this week’s case (Walker v. Doe) the Court declared a mistrial on the 14th day of a Jury trial following closing submissions of counsel for the plaintiff.  The Defendant sought costs and an issue arose about who was best to address this, the presiding judge for the initial trial or the judge who would ultimately oversee the mistrial.  The Court held it was appropriate, in the circumstances of this case,  for the initial judge to address the costs issue.  In reaching this conclusion Mr. Justice Voith provided the following reasons:
[12]         The broad question of whether there is a “longstanding practice” in this province that directs that the costs arising from a mistrial should be assessed by the ultimate trial judge misses an important aspect of the particular issue before me. The issue on this application is not, as the Response filed by the plaintiff suggests, whether “[t]he allocation of costs thrown away as a result of the mistrial should be in the ultimate cause or decided by the judge before whom the case is ultimately tried”.
[13]         The real issue, instead, is who should hear an application for costs, following a mistrial, when the dominant focus of that cost application is an order for special costs against counsel for the party that caused the mistrial. The fact that the dominant, if not overwhelming, focus of the defendant’s application is an order for special costs against counsel is patent from the submissions of the parties as well as from the materials and authorities that each has filed…
[24]         The benefit of having the judge who heard the trial and counsel’s submissions which gave rise to a mistrial, also hear the ensuing special costs application is obvious. In Cunningham v. Slubowski, 2004 BCSC 1204, Madame Justice McKenzie, as she then was, following a 20 day trial, heard an application for costs, including special costs, against counsel. She observed:
[61]      This trial was difficult for all concerned. Ms. Wellburn provided me with valuable assistance on this hearing. She made a valiant effort to grasp the course of the proceedings, but had the disadvantage of not having been counsel at trial. Counsel ordered a few transcripts of the proceedings, but I decided on 7 May 2003, on counsels’ request, that full transcripts were not justified by the expense. As the trial judge, I had the unique position of assessing the course of the proceedings at trial. My recollection remains vivid and, as referred to above, I have considered all the voluminous material filed on this application.
[25]         The foregoing comments are apposite. Notwithstanding the passage of time, my memory of the trial and of the matters leading to the mistrial remains good. My memory of many events remains vivid. Counsel for Mr. Walker sought to argue that another judge, with the benefit of transcripts and the Mistrial Ruling, would be in an equally good position to address the instant application. I do not think that this is so…
29]         I do not consider that another trial judge could address such submissions as readily or as easily as I could. This is so even if extensive transcripts from the first trial were ordered…
[30]         I consider that the foregoing considerations remove this application from the ambit of the “general rule” referred to in Joy and that I should hear the defendant’s application.
[31]         I have also considered whether, having arrived at the foregoing conclusion, I should defer dealing with the substance of the application until after the appeal of the Mistrial Ruling. This would have the benefit of avoiding the costs that would be incurred in hearing the application and that would be wasted if the plaintiff is successful in its appeal of the Mistrial Ruling or, indeed, from these reasons. Conversely, if the Mistrial Ruling is upheld, I expect, having regard to the history of the matter, that any cost order I make will likely be appealed in any event. On balance I consider it better and more efficient to have each of the Mistrial Ruling, these reasons, as well as the eventual reasons from the cost application available before the hearing before the Court of Appeal takes place.

bc injury law, mistrial, Mr. Justice Voith, Walker v. Doe

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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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