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Administrative Law - Judicial review and statutory appeal - Practice and procedure - Limitation periods

Thursday, September 08, 2016 @ 8:00 PM  

Appeal by the Province of New Brunswick (Province) from a decision on a preliminary issue in an application for judicial review. In his 2015 budget speech delivered on March 31, 2015, New Brunswick’s Minister of Finance announced the closure of courthouses in certain areas of the province. The announcement was repeated in a news release issued that same day. Neither the Minister’s statement nor the news release identified a specific date upon which the facilities would be closed. More than six months later, on October 7, 2015, virtually on the eve of the closures, the Charlotte County Barristers’ Society (Society) commenced an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench for judicial review of the Province’s decision. A judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench held that, for judicial review purposes, the decision crystalized on the date the public was made aware of the specific date the facilities would close (October 26, 2015) and it was only then that the limitation period began to run. The Province submitted that the judge erred in determining that a date nineteen days subsequent to the filing of the Society’s application for judicial review was the date of the decision for judicial review purposes.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The decision was set aside and the application for judicial review was dismissed. The Province’s decision to close the courthouses, as announced in the March budget speech and in the resulting news release, was unambiguous, unconditional and unequivocal. It could not be said that the date the facilities would close had any relevance in determining the date of the decision sought to be challenged on review. What the Society challenged was the Province’s decision to close the facility at all, regardless of the specific date of closure. What the Society was challenging was a decision that had already been made, not one that was to be made in the future. As such, it met the criteria to trigger the commencement of the three-month time limit within which an application for judicial review must be commenced under Rule 69 of the Rules of Court. As it was conceded by the Society that this case did not raise exceptional circumstances that would justify an extension of the time limit, it followed that the application for judicial review should have been dismissed as out of time.