Access to justice bill rushed through in Quebec City

Access to justice bill rushed through in Quebec City

The bill on access to justice passed at full speed in Quebec

Jacques Boissinot The Canadian Press The Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, in the halls of the National Assembly, on January 31

The National Assembly rushed through Bill 8, which tackles delays in small claims.

“We are doing useful work,” said the Minister of Justice, Simon Jolin-Barrette, on Wednesday in his final remarks before the adoption of the legislative text presented on February 1. The minister plans to reduce the wait for small claims by more than half. Currently, the average wait time for a hearing is 22 months — the wait is even longer than three years in some districts.

The Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec hears cases where the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. It opens nearly 20,000 files each year. Citizens represent themselves there, for all kinds of problems ranging from neighborhood disturbances to reimbursement for defective property.

Law 8 “aiming to improve the efficiency and accessibility of la justice” makes free mediation mandatory, and arbitration, automatic, for cases under $5,000.

The Minister believes that this will allow citizens to be more involved and to obtain a settlement of their disputes more quickly. A pilot project has shown that the settlement rate with mediation is 60%, he said when he tabled his bill last month.

The parliamentarians, however, saw fit to amend the piece of legislation to exempt cases involving sexual or domestic violence from mandatory recourse to mediation and arbitration.

“The majority of cases will no longer end up in court,” predicted Mr. Jolin-Barrette, who also sees it as a way to relieve judges so that they can hear other cases. He also assured that the number of accredited mediators in Quebec (500) was sufficient to process requests.

The law also aims to simplify civil procedure at the Court of Quebec. It prohibits examinations for discovery for cases under $50,000 and expert opinions will be limited.

Another novelty: the law will allow notaries who have practiced for at least 10 years to be appointed judges of the Court of Quebec to “diversify” the judiciary. It also includes a clause having the effect of modifying the composition of the Conseil de la magistrature by adding a member appointed after consultation with organizations working with victims of crime.

By presenting his bill, Minister Jolin-Barrette said he wanted to give victims a voice.

On Wednesday, Québec solidaire spokesperson for justice, Christine Labrie, underlined the “ very uncontroversial” of the law. “[She] is bringing about a culture change by relying heavily on mediation. I think it's for the best. We sincerely hope that this will reduce delays in the justice system,” she said.

For his part, Liberal MP André Albert Morin notably asked the government to invest the money needed to improve the system and measures progress using a “dashboard”.