Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ontario Family Courts Struggle with Shortage of Judges

Linda Diebel of The Toronto Star has a pointed article today, Family court in crisis, documenting the extreme delays and wasted costs resulting from the continuing, dire shortage of federally-appointed judges in Family Courts in Newmarket, Ottawa and elsewhere in the Province:

Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley acknowledges Ontario must shoulder some of the blame, but told the Star: "The No. 1 issue we face in the family area is that the federal government appoints Superior Court judges – we don't – and we have been short Superior Court judges for a number of years."

He said the problem appeared to be solved in 2004 when the former Liberal federal government agreed to a 12-judge increase, but it was defeated before that happened.
"The present (Conservative) government has never put resources into judicial areas," says Toronto lawyer Philip Epstein, who is with the country's largest family law firm, Epstein Cole. "They have a warped view of how judges work."

...Municipalities are straining. When the unified family court opened in Newmarket in 1999, "it soon became apparent the caseload ... exceeded the capacity of the judicial roster to manage it," George van Hoogenhuize, chair of the York Region family law committee, wrote in 2006. He tabulated statistics showing the strain on Newmarket, which, along with other municipalities, depends on York Region's four family court judges. York's population has grown by more than 200,000 since 1999, but no family court judges have been added.

It's not uncommon for a Newmarket judge to have 80 cases lined up on motion day, while a Toronto judge handles a maximum of eight.

We have previously commented on "chaos days" at Newmarket Family Court, where it is a virtual given that a vast number of scheduled cases will not be reached for hearing.

I will again note the March 13, 2007 comment of Madame Justice Margaret Scott, from the bench at Newmarket Family Court:

"It is obvious that the system here is so judicial-resource poor that it is in crisis."

Kudos to the Star for highlighting this very serious problem. It is time for action by the federal government.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto

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