Monday, June 23, 2008

 

Oppal, Brenner, Tieleman & others

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CIVIL RULE OVERHAUL ON HOLD AS LAWYERS BATTLE ATTORNEY-GENERAL AND CHIEF JUSTICE

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun - Monday, June 23, 2008

B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal and Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Brenner have run up against fierce opposition to planned sweeping changes to the province's civil legal system.

{Snip} ...

Two years in the making and scheduled to go into effect in Jan. 2010, the rule changes are supposed to make the archaic system designed in the 19th century less expensive and more efficient.

But many lawyers and some judges have balked, saying the changes will have the opposite effect.

They fear Victoria is moving stealthily to restrict citizen's rights by giving judges more managerial powers and circumscribing the legal tools available to litigants, which will make it difficult for little people to take on Big Business and Big Government.

In particular, the Trial Lawyers Association, which represents about 1,000 litigators, has been savage, saying the champions of this initiative -- former court of appeal justice Oppal and Brenner -- were going too far, too fast.

The group's efforts, which included hiring political consultant Bill Tieleman, were bolstered earlier this month when the Law Society of B.C. threw its support behind their criticism.

Law Society president John Hunter said "the public has too little assurance that the new measures will actually reduce system costs, or will advance cases through the courts more expeditiously."

He urged the rule-change proponents to examine other options.

It is a stinging rebuke of the chief justice and the attorney general's office, who both have worked hard to win support for the amendments.

{Snip} ...

Citizens will have a hard time accessing the courts and getting justice if the task force gets its way, Frame added: "It will cost more and take longer to have their lawsuits dealt with due to the unreasonable roadblocks built into the proposed rules."

This nasty brouhaha has its roots in a process that began back in early 2002 when the Liberal government launched an ambitious plan to reform the legal system.

A blue-ribbon group of stakeholders called the civil justice reform working group was formed. It issued a report in November 2006 that recommended new rules for civil litigation because lawsuits were too costly and took too much time.

The system was failing ordinary people and the proof was in the numbers -- the number of trials was declining drastically.

Proposed rules were drafted based on the principles outlined in the working group's report and the draft was released in 2007. Brenner and Deputy Attorney-General Allan Seckel stumped the province seeking input.

After hearing from lawyers, judges, bar associations, law schools, experts and the public, they revised the suggested rules and released the supposed final version this spring.

That's when critics began howling.

As a result, the chairman of the task force announced Friday there would be further discussions. William Everett said the consultation period is now being extended until the end of the year.

But Frame said that isn't good enough.

"These rule changes are fundamentally flawed," he insisted. "Delaying the implementation of fundamentally flawed rule changes won't make them any better. We think the attorney-general should step up to the plate and say sorry, but we're going back to the drawing board."

Frame added that there were systemic problems that needed to be addressed but this was not the way to go about it.

"We believe Attorney-General Oppal should now move to put the proposed changes aside and start a new process that includes full public consultation and a cooperative approach to civil law reform," he added.

The trial lawyers have scheduled a special meeting Thursday night at Vancouver's Marriott Pinnacle Hotel to marshal their forces and plot strategy.

The latest draft of the proposed rules and background information are available at www.bcjusticereviewforum.ca/civilrules/.

imulgrew@png.canwest.com

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=bab976b0-3c69-4c7a-b220-ca635a3b1543

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