Most of us pay little attention to the superior courts in our province. Perhaps we do when high profile criminal or civil cases are reported but mostly, the courts grind on without much notice. The Supreme and Appeal courts publish two or three dozen judgments online in an average week and most involve not sensational crimes but disputes about money. Some claims are noble, others tawdry, many a mixture of both.
The saddest cases are not about material possessions but about disagreements between people, often family, who cannot agree on the right course of action, even with both sides acting honorably. Some disputants would benefit more from the counsel of social scientists than that of lawyers and judges. Recognizing this, government encourages, but barely funds, (ADR) alternative dispute resolution: negotiation, mediation, neutral evaluation and arbitration. The commitment of lawyers though is less than complete.
Without ADR, difficult civil matters regularly drag on in courts for years and the final results disappoint both plaintiffs and defendants. Trial and application processes require lengthy preparations and frequently need long periods of review before decisions. The process is painfully slow and for most, painfully expensive. Frequently, the results satisfy no person.
Unsettled cases still meaningful to the litigants are sometimes abandoned because of unmanageable cost. Even with issues supposedly resolved following court decisions, disputes can continue. There are infamous cases in every jurisdiction involving litigants considered vexatious or frivolous, people who continue legal efforts and cannot accept any results but narrow ones that would please them.
The account I’ve written above is free of cynicism, something of which I have much. I think the mostly unaccountable justice system frequently fails Canada and operates too much for the insiders who are its direct financial beneficiaries. Supreme Court judges and senior lawyers earn about $25,000 a month, about six times the median income level of Canadians who work full time. Partners in large law firms earn far more, a fact demonstrated in spectacular fashion by this January 2011 report from The Province:
“… aggregate costs for [Basi/Virk] special prosecutor Bill Berardino stand at $7,653,229, according to figures released Friday by the criminal justice branch of the attorney-general’s ministry.”
Lurking on the periphery of the court system are more extravagantly paid professionals. Accountants, trustees, consultants and other ‘experts’ may earn large fees acting as or for officers of the court but with only cursory supervision. Bankruptcy trustees might borrow money at high rates despite strong underlying security and the funding may be sourced from associates not truly dealing at arms length. Consultants may individually appear to be at arms length but are part of circular groups who purchase and supply services with each other on a number of different files. A works for B and B works for C who works for D who works for A.
I’ve written here before about judicial inadequacies and will have more in the near future:
- Justice MacKenzie not worthy of the position
- How about an ‘Inquiry on the Cheap’
- J. Leask: Questions of perspicacity and impartiality