CBABC applauds Supreme Court of Canada ruling and Access to Justice win

  • October 02, 2014

(October 2, 2014) Vancouver, BC – The Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch welcomed today’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling declaring civil hearing fees unconstitutional.

In a landmark decision, by a majority of 6:1, the Supreme Court of Canada today ruled court fees to be a barrier to access to justice, not just for very poor people, but for people of modest and middle incomes as well. This decision affirms the earlier judgment of Supreme Court of BC Justice Mark McEwan in Vilardell, which had been overturned in part at the Court of Appeal of BC.

“The highest court in our country has sent a strong message to all provincial governments that imposing fees on people who face financial barriers to accessing the courts is no longer acceptable,” said Alex Shorten, CBABC President. “Access to our courts is a protected right, not just for those who are ‘indigent’ and could have their fees waived, and not just for those who have significant financial resources. This decision confirms the same right exists for anyone for whom the payment of court fees may impact on their ability to fund other essentials – the modest and middle-income majority, for whom access to justice has become a very real challenge.”

The Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBABC) was an intervenor on the Vilardell case at the Supreme Court of BC at the request of Justice McEwan, and again on the appeal.  The CBABC and the Trial Lawyers Association of BC (TLABC) jointly pursued the case as parties at the Supreme Court of Canada, on the basis that it provided a unique opportunity to challenge the constitutionality of provincially-imposed court fees (in essence ‘user fees’) for people who require access to the courts to resolve a legal dispute. It is the position of the CBABC that access to the courts is a protected right in Canada, and court fees are a barrier to access. CBABC co-counsel Sharon Matthews, QC and Dr. Melina Buckley, who have been dedicated champions to the cause of access to justice for decades in Canada, provided their legal expertise pro bono on behalf of the CBABC at all three levels of court.

“Today’s verdict is a huge win for the public in the fight for Access to Justice,” says CBABC President Alex Shorten. “Removing barriers to access to the courts is what this case was all about. The CBABC was represented by exceptional pro bono counsel Sharon Matthews, QC and Dr. Melina Buckley, working in partnership with lead TLABC counsel Darrell Roberts, QC. We are grateful for their tenacity and dedication to both the legal profession and the public’s right to access justice. We say thank you to the many lawyers involved in this fight, and to Access Pro Bono BC and West Coast LEAF, who also contributed to today’s ultimate success.”

“This ruling has far-reaching impact across the country in terms of a resounding statement of the legal principles that support equal access to justice,” added Shorten. “On behalf of our 6,900 members in BC, I am proud of the advocacy work of the CBA and our role as both intervenor and party in the ongoing fight to protect access to justice across Canada.”

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Click here to view the Reasons for Judgment.