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CIVIL PROCEDURE - Trials - Jury trials - Right to jury

Monday, September 25, 2017 @ 8:41 AM  

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Appeal by the plaintiff, the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, from a summary trial ruling dismissing its petition for constitutional relief. The plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of the provisions requiring a litigant to pay fees and expenses associated with civil jury trials, namely s. 17 of the Jury Act and Rule 12-6(3)(b) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules. The plaintiff alleged that the impugned provisions were impermissibly vague, that the requirement to pay a deposit on account of fees was ultra vires, and that the fee requirement wrongfully impeded access to justice, thereby offending the rule of law and the Court's jurisdiction pursuant to s. 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867. On a summary trial application, the Chief Justice dismissed the petition. The Chief Justice found the language of the impugned provisions sufficiently precise to provide an intelligible standard and basis for legal debate. Additionally, the impugned provisions and collection practices set out the explicit authority for collecting jury fees and were intra vires. With respect to the issue of access to justice, the Chief Justice distinguished court fees from jury fees, and held that the decision not to pay reasonable expenses in favour of a trial by judge alone did not restrict access to justice. The Chief Justice found that the Charter did not confer a right to a jury trial. The plaintiff appealed, restating its request for constitutional relief.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The Chief Justice correctly determined that the requirement to pay civil jury fees did not represent an unlawful impediment to access to justice. Similarly, civil jury fees did not infringe the core jurisdiction of superior courts in a manner that contravened s. 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as the right to the modality of a jury trial was not within that core jurisdiction. Access to the courts remained in place, notwithstanding one's inability to fund a jury trial. For the reasons found by the Chief Justice, the Sheriff's Civil Jury Fees were not ultra vires the Jury Act. The requirement to pay "a sum sufficient" to pay for the jury and jury process was not impermissibly vague, as the language met the required standard of precision. The appeal was accordingly dismissed.

Trial Lawyers Assn. of British Columbia v. British Columbia (Attorney General), [2017] B.C.J. No. 1826, British Columbia Court of Appeal, R.J. Bauman C.J.B.C., R. Goepel and L. Fenlon JJ.A., September 15, 2017. Digest No. TLD-Sept252017002