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Year end round-up – the Legal Year 2023

Author: Christopher Green

When you think “legal highlights” you might be tempted to think of lurid headlines proclaiming the acquittal of a murderer, or the winning of an outrageous damages award in civil court, but as lawyers we don’t tend to rate our years that way. To us, an excellent year is one in which we kept our clients out of the headlines, while quietly and discretely achieving their goals. Most of the firm’s work is in the area of family law, and nobody wants the sordid details of their case making the news.

So, our year end summary of the legal year now ending can never include a catalogue of fabulous victories- although we had some good ones this year- its enough that we know, and our clients know.

So what headlines can we comment upon? Well, there has been a lot of change “at the top.” In BC, we got a new Attorney General- Niki Sharma- I believe the youngest person to hold the title, and only the third woman. We also very recently got a new Chief Justice- Leonard Marchand, the first of First Nations heritage, and to top it all off, we got a new Federal Attorney General – Arif Virani in July. Great! a new broom eh? New energy to tackle the crisis presently facing our courts – the chronic judge shortage ? Well don’t hold your breath! AG Virani made a lot of noise about coming out of the chutes strong to fast track federal judicial appointments, and he quickly made 49 of them across Canada- unfortunately bypassing BC in the process (we got only two).BC still holds first place in the Great Canadian judicial vacancy contest-

Yup, we’re Number One! – and it shows, as court lists grow ever longer, and scheduled cases get bumped with increasing regularity. We famously had one week last month where three of our litigators were scheduled to run trials or  complex court applications – pretty much the entire output of the office for the preceding week had been devoted to getting those files ready for court, with all hands on deck preparing books of authorities, document binders, the photocopiers running non-stop ,and the lawyers rehearsing their submissions – only to come up dry- no judges- not one of our cases was heard! A huge expense for our clients, and a demoralizing letdown for us.

Our year end round-up for 2021 optimistically reported the opening of a brand new courthouse in Abbotsford- at a cost of $150 million, but two years on, its courtrooms are largely empty- no judges to sit there.

BC currently lacks 13 judges to bring us up to our constitutionally mandated quota-( a quota which itself is woefully out of date, in the face of the Province’s rapid population growth) but nobody in Ottawa seems to be  paying attention ( Supreme court judges ae federally appointed)  One can only hope that our new Chief Justice and our New AG will begin making some noise in high places.

It was a huge disappointment when former Chief Justice  Bauman, on the occasion of his retirement in October, was asked by reporters about the judge shortage crisis, and opined that really there was no crisis, and that everything would be fine! Surely the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that a problem exists!

The other big legal story of 2023 (I refuse to call it a ‘highlight!) was the government’s announcement that it intends to proceed full speed ahead with a re-vamping of the legal profession itself, by creating a ‘single legal regulator’, as a precursor to licencing lightly trained legal professionals such as para-legals, to compete with lawyers for scarce courtroom time, in hopes that it will keep litigant’s costs down. Its a complex topic, not well-suited for a cursory year-end round-up, so we will only note that  2023 was the year it all began to change. 2024 will see the advent of a new governing body to regulate lawyers, notaries, and near -lawyers – what could possibly go wrong?

(the opinions expressed herein are those of the author, DLG Blogger Emeritus, now retired from the practice of law, and able to blow raspberries at judges with impunity, rather than those of the lawyers who still work here and might someday be lucky enough to find themselves appearing before a judge!)