The Canadian Bar Association and Trial Lawyers Association mounted a constitutional challenge of hearing fees imposed by the Province of British Columbia. The fees in question amounted to between $500 and $800 per day of court time. In the context of a ten-day family trial, the fees amounted almost to the family’s net income for an entire month.
The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that the charging of court fees is a legitimate exercise of provincial jurisdiction, but concluded that court fees which effectively deprive parties of their right to access superior courts are unconstitutional:
“The historic task of the superior courts is to resolve disputes between individuals and decide questions of private and public law. Measures that prevent people from coming to the courts to have those issues resolved are at odds with this basic judicial function. The resolution of these disputes and resulting determination of issues of private and public law, viewed in the institutional context of the Canadian justice system, are central to what the superior courts do. Indeed, it is their very book of business. To prevent this business being done strikes at the core of the jurisdiction of the superior courts protected by s. 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867 . As a result, hearing fees that deny people access to the courts infringe the core jurisdiction of the superior courts.”
Decided by the Supreme Court of Canada on October 2, 2014.
Click here for the full text of the decision.