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Manitoba Appeal Court details turnaround times, areas of law heard in first annual report

Friday, November 26, 2021 @ 9:29 AM | By Terry Davidson

Manitoba’s Court of Appeal has released its first-ever annual report.

Released earlier this month, the 13-page statement lays out statistics from both the 2019-2020 fiscal year and the four previous years, and provides sections detailing the role of the court, the duties of its judges and the state of its operations.

In his opening message, Chief Justice Richard Chartier noted that legislative changes were made last year that require the court to “prepare an annual report about the operation, functioning and administration of the court during the year.”  

In an accompanying news release, Chief Justice Chartier spoke of “accountability and transparency.” 

“A few years ago, I asked the Minister of Justice of Manitoba to amend our act to include a requirement that we prepare an annual report about the operation, functioning and administration of our court,” writes Chief Justice Chartier. “Our court, like the two trial courts, believes in accountability and transparency, which, of course, has to be balanced with the principle of judicial independence.”

The report starts off by identifying the court’s 13 judges, five of which are supernumeraries.

What follows is a detailing of various statistics between 2015-2016 and 2019-2020.

According to the report, the average yearly number of new appeals filed over those five years sat at 169, with an increase of nine per cent during the final three years of that period.

As far as decisions during that time, those issued from the bench versus reserved decisions were around an even 50/50 throughout that time.

As for the time from a hearing to when a decision was issued, rulings were issued within six months 95 per cent of the time. The remaining five per cent are “always issued within the 12-month period following the hearing.”

For the 2019-2020 year, decisions were delivered within six months 97 per cent of the time.

With this, the report notes the court strives to follow Canadian Judicial Council guidelines for trial courts, which dictate that decisions should be delivered within six months after a trial hearing, except in “special circumstances.”

On average, reserved decisions were released within four months from the date of the hearing and bench decisions were released nine days after the hearing.

In terms of areas of law addressed in 2019-2020, 53 per cent was criminal, 23 per cent was civil, 14 per cent was family and 10 per cent was administrative. The five-year average for these were 48 per cent, 31 per cent, 11 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively.

The report also found that the Supreme Court of Canada heard an average of one Manitoba appeal per year for the 2015-16 to 2019-2020 period.  

A court spokesperson was asked why the Appeal Court chose to issue an annual report at this time, given Manitoba’s provincial court has been doing it since 2002-2003.  

Sandy Kuchinski, director of judicial services for the courts division of Manitoba Justice, said both Chief Justice Chartier and Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal committed to “increased transparency in the judiciary.”

“The provincial court had been issuing annual reports for some time now because it was mandated under its statute,” said Kuchinski. “There was no similar provision for the courts of superior jurisdiction until the chief justices of those two courts requested the Manitoba minister of justice to amend the respective Acts of those courts. As to why at this time? There was no single reason other than both Chief Justice Richard Chartier’s and Chief Justice Glenn Joyal’s commitment to increased transparency in the judiciary and, as Chief Justice Chartier stated, “wanting to discharge the court’s public accountability responsibilities”.

(Kuchinski said Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench is currently developing its first annual report for 2020-2021.)

Kuchinski noted Chief Justice Chartier has said the Appeal Court “will be issuing one each year.”

Ian Scarth, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Manitoba branch

“A number of years ago, the legal profession had voiced its concern over the amount of time it took for decisions to be released by the Manitoba Court of Appeal,” Chief Justice Chartier has stated. “Our court started compiling statistics and realized that the profession raised a valid point. A number of our decisions were over the Canadian Judicial Council’s six-month guideline. We took immediate measures to rectify the situation.”

Ian Scarth, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Manitoba branch, said the report “conveyed a lot of useful information for both the legal profession and the public regarding the role and operations of the Court of Appeal.”

“The report is about transparency and providing the legal profession and public with information about the operations of the Court of Appeal,” said Scarth. “Much of the information contained in the report is essential to advising our clients. For example, if the panel reserves, counsel can be confident that the outside window for a decision to be released is six months.”

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