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Ontario has the worst court delays in the country. Will getting rid of civil jury duty address the issue?


The Ford government says it is still studying the possibility of scrapping civil juries, approximately three years after asking stakeholders to weigh in.

In a 2020 letter obtained by The Canadian Press, Attorney General Doug Downey asked stakeholders to weigh in on a proposed legislative amendment that would eliminate some or all civil jury trials in an effort to clear ongoing court backlogs.

Downey said in the letter the move would be part of a broader effort to maintain the administration of justice during the early days of the pandemic and address how the needs of the system have changed, noting Ontario is one of the few jurisdictions in Canada to still allow civil jury trials. Even in Ontario, a civil trial by jury is not the norm and limited to a number of circumstances. 

READ MORE: Ontario considers scrapping civil jury trials to deal with court backlogs

Stakeholders were given until June 15, 2020 to submit on the issue. On Wednesday, the Ministry of the Attorney General confirmed to CTV News Toronto that recommendations made by stakeholders were still under review just over three years later.

“We continue to review stakeholder recommendations, which will help inform our future decision on this matter,” Maher Abdurahman, a spokesperson for the ministry, said in a written statement.

The ministry did not provide a response on when it expected to reach a decision.

Court backlogs remain ongoing across the province despite a return to normal operations. Last month, The Advocates' Society (TAS), a national organization of lawyers dedicated to justice issues, published a report that found Ontario’s delays to be the worst in the country – litigants can expect to wait up to five years to have a dispute settled by a judge.

In Toronto, the organization found that it currently takes almost 1.5 years for a motion longer than two hours to be heard by a judge, more than 1.5 years after the trial management conference for a 3-week family law trial to be heard by a judge in Brampton, and more than four to five years for a civil action to proceed from commencement to trial.

Osgoode Hall is seen in Toronto on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. The building is home to Ontario’s Court of Appeal and also hears cases from Divisional Court and civil litigation before the Superior Court of Justice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel


Professor and incoming Dean at York University’s Osgoode Hall Trevor Farrow told CTV News Toronto he would be in favour of the elimination of civil juries.

Currently, six people sit on a civil jury, except in certain situations where it's prohibited by statute. Civil decisions do not have to be unanimous – only five jurors must be in agreement.

They’re an important tradition, Farrow said in an interview Wednesday. “They bring credibility, awareness and transparency to the process,[and] they engage the public in the justice system.”

“But the balance at the moment is trying to get as many people the opportunity to be tried in a timely manner,” he said. “To any extent that we can streamline the civil justice system to offer good, fair justice to more people is a good thing.”

If that means limiting or “potentially eliminating” civil juries, Farrow said he feels “the trade-off would be okay.”

Ultimately, the professor and incoming Dean feels the solution isn’t in cutting one avenue of the justice system – investment is needed in the form of increased resources and capacity.

“I'm glad the government is looking at the civil jury system as one of potentially several different ways to address backlogs, but [...] eliminating civil juries is not going to fix the problem,” he said.

Farrow said the province needs to address the number of vacancies in the court system. In June, the Ministry of the Attorney General told CTV News Toronto there were three vacancies out of 50 judge positions in Ontario’s Family Court, and 19 vacancies out of 205 positions in the Superior Court.

Court administrative services and staff also need better support and more resources, Farrow added.

“You can have all the judges in the world, but without the staff and the court resources to support those judges in cases, those courtrooms are not running,” he said. “So it's the whole system that needs to be supported.”

Farrow’s sentiments echo the calls of TAS', who alongside their July report called on all levels of government “to urgently dedicate additional resources to the civil and family justice system.”

On July 18, the Ministry of the Attorney General announced it would spend more than $150 million dollars on the court's "digital justice system" in an effort to address the delays.

Downey said the move marked the next step in the province's goal of a "digital justice system that helps people resolve legal matters easier and faster.


According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ), penned in part by Farrow, “nearly all” Canadians will interact with the civil justice system in their lifetime.

In just a three-year period, the research found 48.4 per cent of the adult Canadian population – or approximately 11.4 million adult Canadians – will experience at least one “everyday legal problem that they consider to be serious and difficult to resolve.”

CFCJ Director Lisa Moore feels that, after the last few years, the legal system has shown itself able to adapt.

"Eliminating civil jury trials is not a panacea by any means; meaningful change towards better access to civil justice will require a broader set of actions and investments," Moore said in a statement issued Wednesday. "But what the CFCJ’s research shows is that when legal problems drag on for a long time, the costs to individuals, their mental and physical health, their relationships, the legal system, and public services are profound."

Both Moore and Farrow said the possibility must come alongside further support and investments.

“More people are involved in civil matters than in criminal [ones],” Farrow said Thursday. “Those civil matters really have a huge impact on people's lives – lost jobs, discrimination, housing issues, estate issues, family law issues."

"That stuff really cuts into their lives in major, problematic ways.” 

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Toronto's Jon Woodward. Top Stories

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