Court Ruling a ‘Win’ for Equality and Access to Justice

  • May 23, 2012

VANCOUVER, BC – The Canadian Bar Association BC Branch (CBABC) commends a Supreme Court of BC decision released May 22, 2012 that ruled civil hearing fees unconstitutional. “We are delighted that access to the courts has been upheld as a “common good” and that government has been found responsible for ensuring equality of access for all,” said CBABC Past President Stephen McPhee, QC.

In Reasons for Judgment in Vilardell v. Dunham, issued March 31, 2009, Mr Justice Mark McEwan invited the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch and the Law Society of BC to consider intervening on an application to relieve a plaintiff from payment of 10 days of court hearing fees in a family law case.

CBABC accepted the court’s invitation to intervene and, along with Ms Vilardell’s pro bono counsel Jamie Maclaren of Access Pro Bono BC and Darrell Roberts, QC for the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, presented a compelling case for considering such fees to be unconstitutional and a barrier to equal access to justice. CBABC thanks its pro bono counsel Sharon Matthews and Melina Buckley, and congratulates the entire legal team involved in the case. This is a landmark decision with far-reaching impact across the country in terms of a resounding statement of the legal principles that pertain to equal access to justice.

“The CBABC views the decision in Vilardell v. Dunham as a welcome confirmation of the right of everyone to equal access to justice. Mr. Justice McEwan has declared hearing fees unconstitutional and in so doing found that the fees, which escalate to over $600 per day, are an impediment to the courts for all but those who are well to do,” said Mr McPhee. “This decision reaffirms that the courts exist for everyone, regardless of their wealth or the size of their case. In the current context of justice reform, the decision is a comprehensive and compelling review of the legal principles that direct how government and the courts must interact to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities.”

Download a PDF copy of the official CBABC news release.

Click here to view the Reasons for Judgment.

See Notice from Ministry of Justice re: suspension of fee collection here.

For more information contact:

Maureen Cameron, Director of Membership, Volunteer and Public Affairs at 604.646.7850 or mcameron@bccba.org. The Canadian Bar Association is the professional organization representing more than 38,000 lawyers, judges and law students in Canada, including 6,700 members in British Columbia.