SOURCE: Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia

October 02, 2014 16:48 ET

Ordinary Citizens Gain Access to the Courts With Today's Ruling From the Supreme Court of Canada

Expensive Hearing Fees in BC Struck Down by the High Court in a 6-1 Decision

VANCOUVER, BC--(Marketwired - October 02, 2014) - Today's ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is a victory for ordinary everyday citizens, as it empowers them to seek justice through the courts rather than be blocked at the courthouse doors due to expensive court hearing fees.

"We are ecstatic with the result in TLABC v. BC (Attorney General)," said Richard Parsons, President of the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia. "The Court has spoken and the result is access to justice in British Columbia is not only for the rich. The decision forces the BC Government to set up a hearing fee structure that will not cause undue hardship to average British Columbians who need to access justice through our Courts. The decision also leaves discretion with Judges to waive hearing fees depending on the financial circumstances of the parties," Parsons explained. "Promoting access to justice is part of our organization's mission, and we are extremely proud of this result which will positively affect many members of our society. TLABC is extremely grateful to our member Darrell Roberts, QC and Chantelle Rajotte, who championed this cause on behalf of our organization on a pro bono basis."

"This much anticipated decision from the Supreme Court of Canada finally affirms for all Canadians that the courts of this country are a public good and that under the Rule of Law, which defines Canada both constitutionally and democratically, access to the courts is for everyone, not just governments, corporations or wealthy individuals," said Darrell Roberts, QC -- TLABC's lead counsel on this matter.

In essence, as it's been, the poor can apply for relief from paying the court fees and the rich can afford the fees, but the so-called middle class were hit hard by the expensive costs. This matter originated at the trial level with a child-custody dispute between former common law spouses. The woman applied for relief from having to pay the costly hearing fees. Though she didn't meet the definition of being impoverished, she was not able to pay both the hearing fees ($3,600) and meet her needs with regular monthly expenses. The trial judge in British Columbia ruled the fees were unconstitutional. Today's ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada affirms it.

"TLABC deserves credit for this positive result," stated Roberts. "This litigation has been a long haul. It was in 2009, at the request of the president of the TLABC, I applied to intervene (for TLABC) in the trial Vilardell v. Dunham. It was this association, of which I am proud to be a member, that stepped up and sought leave to appeal to the SCC and sought standing as a party appellant, and got both. Before these applications, we were left with the administratively challenging and inappropriate decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal, which reversed the fine legal judgment of the trial judge, Mr. Justice Mark McEwan, and held that all persons, even the middle class if they weren't impoverished but still 'in need' and unable to afford the B.C. Government's rapacious hearing fees, could ask the court to relieve them from payment."

Roberts concluded: "Today's decision follows the disappointment in 2006 in the Christie Case. I was counsel for the late Dugald Christie -- wherein the SCC overturned the holdings of our trial and appellate courts, which held that the BC Social Services Tax on legal fees was an unlawful impediment to access to justice."

NOTE/PROTEST re: THE LACK OF LEGAL AID IN BC: The quote from Mr. Roberts regarding the tax on legal fees remains of primary relevance today. The BC Government obtains more than $145 million annually by taxing citizens on legal services, yet the system of legal aid, which is supposed to assist citizens in need, is funded at only half of that sum. The result of this imbalance leaves far too many citizens fending for themselves in family law, criminal cases and immigration matters. It is too tough for them to qualify for legal aid and not enough services are covered. For these reasons, lawyers in several parts of the province (e.g. Vancouver, Surrey, Victoria, Kamloops and Richmond) are withdrawing legal aid services at the start of each month for the foreseeable future. This form of protest began with a month-long blackout in the summer and resumes on Monday, October 6 in what will be the first blackout period of the fall.

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