Judicial Scheduling Conventions for the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division)1
Chief Justice of the Ontario Court as Established by the Honourable F.W. Callaghan, October, 1992
To ensure that an adequate level of judicial service is maintained with the limited resources made available to the court, it has become necessary to re-examine our judicial scheduling conventions. Over the past six months, the Regional Senior Justices, Associate Chief Justice McMurtry and I have consulted with judges in each region and with a committee struck for this purpose by the Ontario Superior Court Judges’ Association. Our examination included consideration of the judicial scheduling conventions adhered to by all other Canadian superior trial courts and those of several American jurisdictions. However, it soon became apparent that the caseload pressure faced by our court is not shared by our Canadian counterparts, and their judicial scheduling conventions were therefore of limited assistance.
Everyone recognized that judicial scheduling conventions must take into account the fact that time spent in court is only one part of the judicial workload. Time worked outside the courtroom is becoming increasingly significant to the work of today’s superior court judge. The new scheduling standards must reflect the importance of pre-trial conferences, case management, settlement discussions with counsel, authorized judicial education, judicial administration, and liaison with other community groups involved in the administration of justice, as well more traditional extracurricular activities such as reading pleadings, motions material, factums and pre-sentence reports, writing rulings, judgments and jury charges, reviewing and editing transcripts, preparing reports for the Court of Appeal, analyzing caselaw and case briefs, and reviewing and summarizing notes of evidence.
Our first priority is providing the highest quality judicial services to the public.
Apart from making better use of existing resources, other considerations include promoting uniform scheduling practices throughout the court, and providing greater flexibility in judicial scheduling.
Since the court’s inception, the Regional Senior Justices and I have endeavoured to adhere to a ratio of one non-sitting week for every three sitting weeks. This is consistent with the practice of the High Court of Justice and the recommendation made by the Ontario Courts Inquiry (“the Zuber Commission”), namely, that “the sitting year for a judge should consist of 44 weeks including judgment weeks and judicial training courses approved by the regional (senior) judge…For the Superior Court, judgment weeks should be scheduled every fourth week.”2 The public interest mandates that this ideal standard must be exceeded to some extent. Hopefully, initiatives such as automated case management projects, designation of judges under subrule 37.15, assignment of teams of judges to address certain aspects of the court’s inventory, and establishment of specialty courts will also serve to alleviate the caseload pressures currently experienced.
Through the cooperative effort referred to above, new scheduling conventions have been suggested which will preserve the high quality of superior court adjudication, make better use of existing resources and provide a greater degree of flexibility then those currently in place. In large measure, the new scheduling conventions continue the existing ratio of sitting weeks to non-sitting weeks.
The new judicial scheduling conventions are as follows:
Each full-time member of the court will sit thirty five (35) weeks per year. Supernumerary judges will continue to sit seventeen (17) weeks per year. Included in sitting weeks will be time spent at meetings of the whole court.
Each full-time member of the court will be given nine (9) non-court or non-sitting weeks, inclusive of the short vacation. Five (5) of these shall be apportioned in the spring term, with the remaining four (4) in the fall term. While there is no obligation on a member of the court to spend non-sitting weeks in the courthouse, it is essential that non-sitting weeks not be equated or confused with vacation weeks. Non-sitting weeks are working weeks. During a non-sitting weeks, it may be necessary for judges to be “on call” to assist by sitting for the week. Should it become necessary to call on a particular judge to fill in during one of his or her non-sitting weeks, that non-sitting week will, in the ordinary course, be credited to the judge at a subsequent point.
The following list in exhaustively sets out activities expected of a judge during a non-sitting week:
In light of the express provision regarding vacation weeks, the former practice of permitting judges to take consecutive non-sitting weeks is discontinued:
- reading pleadings and motion materials, factums, and pre-sentence reports;
- writing rulings and judgments;
- reviewing and editing transcription of rulings and judgments prior to release;
preparing reports for the Court of Appeal;
- analyzing case law and case briefs;
- reviewing and summarizing notes in relation to evidence;
- judicial administration, to the extent that the judge is involved in this endeavour by the Chief Justice or a Regional Senior Justice;
- judicial education, including attendance at French language training programmes; and
- liaison with legal and other community groups involved in the administration of justice, to the extent that the judge is involved in this endeavour by the Chief Justice or a Regional Senior Justice.
Each regular member of the court will be entitled to 8 weeks of vacation per year. Subject to the approval of the Regional Senior Justice, judges may elect to take vacation weeks at any time during the calendar year. Vacation entitlement may not be carried over from one year to the next without the written permission of the Regional Senior Justice for the region to which the particular judge is assigned. :
Twelve Month Calendar:Integral to these new scheduling conventions is the adoption of a 12 month calendar. It is anticipated that during the months of July and August, the court will operate at 30% to 40% capacity. For the time being, this appears to be the maximum for summer sittings because of the absence due to holidays of lawyers, clients, jurors and witnesses. It is anticipated that the majority of judges’ vacation weeks will continue to be taken during those months. Judges with very young or school age children will be given preference in selecting vacation time during the summer months.
While judicial scheduling remains within the exclusive province of the court’s senior judiciary, implementation of the twelve month calendar will necessitate changes to the Rules of Court.
Currently, rule 3.03(1) provides that “during July and August and from December 24th to the following January 6th, both dates inclusive, no trial of an action shall be held unless all parties consent in writing or the court orders otherwise.” In order to remove any existing impediment to adoption of the twelve month calendar, I have asked the Civil Rules Committee to amend this rule by excising reference to the months of July and August, thereby eliminating what has been traditionally referred to as the Long Vacation. It is noteworthy that several other provinces have already abolished the Long Vacation, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The Honourable F.W. Callaghan
Chief Justice of the Ontario Court
1 Section 11(1) of the Courts
of Justice Act establishes that the Ontario Court (General Division) is continued as a superior court of record under the name “Superior Court of Justice” in English and “Cour supérieur de justice” in French.
2 Report of the Ontario Courts Inquiry, The Honourable T.G. Zuber, Commissioner (Toronto: Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, 1987) p. 171.