Judicial Services

Improving access to justice for self-represented litigants

The Judicial Services provided key strategic management and legal advice to the four Chief Justices and other members of the courts. Assistance was also provided to a number of Bench and Bar Committees.

During the period covered by this report, the Branch supported initiatives to modernize the Federal Courts Rules to remove obstacles to e-services and pave the way for future possibilities for the increased use of technology in the delivery of judicial and registry services. The development of policy recommendations for amendments to the Rules helped identify opportunities for their simplification and clarification.

To improve access to justice, resources were made available to self-represented litigants to assist them in settling disputes in a timely and cost-effective manner. Access to the courts practice directions, availability of easy-to-follow steps for filing proceedings, navigation of self-represented litigants through the hearing stage process, and access to updated and simplified materials empowered self-represented litigants to become more self-reliant.

An augmentation in the number of immigration-related applications at the Federal Court resulted in a corresponding demand for the translated decisions. Similarly, an important increase in the caseload of the Tax Court of Canada resulted in a substantial escalation in the number of self-represented litigants and associated non-discretionary cost.

With the coming into force of Bill C-43 Economic Action Plan 2014 Act, No. 2, the jurisdiction for payment of prothonotaries’ salaries, pensions, benefits and other administrative arrangements were transferred to the Office of the Commissioner of Federal Judicial Affairs (FJA). In 2014–15, CAS worked with central agencies and the FJA to facilitate the transfer.

Registry Services

Seeking creative solutions to meet growing demands

Registry Services are at the heart of CAS’s support for the federal courts. They provide all operational and registry functions necessary for the smooth and efficient functioning of the courts, including the maintenance of court files and the provision of information and services to the public. Registry Services maintain offices and staff in two locations in Ottawa—headquarters to the four courts—as well as regional and local offices in ten other cities across Canada.

In 2014–15, the registries were pushed to operate beyond capacity, supporting a large number of proceedings, many involving large volumes of documentation. Workload pressures were mainly due to the number, complexity and nature of trials, the need to support the increasing number of self-represented litigants (who typically required substantially more assistance than litigants represented by lawyers), legislative amendments, and the increased volume of court applications and hearings.

The new and evolving requirements of the courts, technological advances and other imperatives necessitated the regular review of the Courts Rules and registry processes. To facilitate the implementation of the revised rules, mandatory training was provided to employees. However, the limited resources and the increased volume of non-discretionary work diminished the registries’ capacity to make important improvements to operations. A sound approach to forecasting hearings costs was established and resources were allocated and reallocated where needed, to address the impact of the increasing workload and non-discretionary expenditures.

In light of the limitations of CAS’s IT network, the courts and registry management continued to seek creative solutions to meet the demands associated with the use of technology, all while sustaining core business activities in an environment of resource constraints and competing priorities. To ensure the ongoing delivery of quality registry services to the courts, CAS continued to implement some technological enhancements in the courtrooms including Digital Audio Recording System, e-filing, e-scanning and e-faxing.

Corporate Services

Increasing collaboration with the law enforcement community

In 2014–15, the emerging risks on the international scene and evolving court security requirements necessitated ongoing review of physical security measures, awareness and preparedness, as well as increased collaboration with the law enforcement community to advance organizational interests. In addition, particular attention was given to IT security in light of the escalation in cyber threats and attacks on Government of Canada networks. To address this potential risk, CAS updated and developed its IM/IT security policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities; strengthened its IT security controls and standards; and conducted ongoing assessments to mitigate its exposure to cyber threats.

The funding earmarked in Budget 2015 for key enhancements to physical and IT security for the federal courts will ensure that the judicial system continues to function optimally and that members of the courts, court users and CAS employees are safe and secure. These investments will facilitate key enhancements with national implications on federal courts, registry offices and administrative buildings across Canada. Physical security improvements such as additional cameras, security personnel and screening tools and IT enhancements will help safeguard against security breaches.

The Architecture and Computing Environment assessment commissioned in 2014–15, described remediation and enhancements to the network necessary to enable the deployment of new business solutions to meet the evolving needs of the courts, litigants and CAS. Moving forward, the findings of this assessment, as incorporated into the revised IT roadmap, will continue to be assessed along with the financial and human resources necessary to deliver on the plans.

Progress was made on the Montréal office relocation project in collaboration with Public Works and Government Services Canada. The lease for the current facilities will expire in 2019 and as such, CAS worked to identify funding to cover the cost for the judicial and special purpose fit-up and furniture required for this project. In addition, CAS completed renovations in its Edmonton and Halifax offices. The construction of the Newfoundland facility, initiated in 2014–15, is slated for completion in 2015–16.