Shortage of B.C. Supreme Court judges forces chambers to shut down

For the first time in 35 years, the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver was forced to close family and civil chambers for a whole day.

A spokesperson from the B.C. Supreme Court said the closure on Sept. 18 was due to a shortage of judges.

Lawyer Richard Fowler – who is on the Board of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC – said delays like this mean people aren’t getting access to justice.

“We’re talking about family cases, where there may be issues of access, maybe issues of child maintenance or spousal maintenance,” Fowler said.

“So these are important matters that need to be heard quickly, and where delays can have significant impact on people’s lives.”

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Getting a date for chambers can take months. The next available dates are in December and people can’t book one until Oct. 10.

WATCH: Staffing shortage affects trials in B.C.

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Staffing shortage affects trials in B.C.

Fowler said that on top of the delays, many people who had a chambers date for the 18th are likely out a lot of money.

He said their lawyers would have had to prepare for that day and will still need to bill, even though their matters weren’t heard.

So, why is it so hard to fill vacant positions on the B.C. Supreme Court?

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While there are just five vacancies listed on the federal government’s website, more places are opening up because of recent retirements.

Add to that, retirements that are expected in the near future.

Fowler said the federal government’s new process for appointing judges – aimed at getting more diversity – might also be complicating the process to new applications.

“I’ve heard anecdotally that it’s a process that has put off many otherwise good applicants.”

He said diversity in the judiciary is important, but added it’s also important to have qualified judges to hear cases quickly so that justice can be delivered.

But Canada’s Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government has taken “significant steps” to ensure judgement appointments are transparent and accountable.

“To date, I have appointed 18 judges in British Columbia. We’ve kept our promise to promote a more diverse bench,” said Raybould in an email.

She said she continues to meet regularly with the Judicial Advisory Committee in B.C. to consider applications for the bench.

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I look forward to appointing more outstanding jurists to fill the remaining vacancies on the BC bench in the near future.”

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