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Access to Justice is Protected by the Constitution

The Supreme Court of Canada recently held that although provinces can charge administrative fees for court hearings, these fees will be unconstitutional when they prevent individuals from having legitimate disputes (i.e. non-frivolous or non-vexatious) resolved in the superior courts. That point is reached when the fees in questions cause undue hardship to people seeking access to the courts.

Access to justice has been a growing concern for many Canadians in recent years. Courts have seen an increase in the number of people who represent themselves in civil cases (including small claims matters and family claims). The ruling is a major victory and a positive step towards improving access to justice, and sends a strong message that justice is not available only for those who can afford it. “[W]hen hearing fees deprive litigants of access to superior courts, they infringe the basic right of citizens to bring their cases to courts,” explained the Supreme Court.

Canada’s top court held that a hearing fee scheme that does not exempt impoverished people will clearly be unconstitutional. The law must give judges the discretion to waive hearing fees for people who are prevented from bringing their claims to court due to their financial situation.

The Supreme Court further added that a “fee that is so high that it requires litigants who are not impoverished to sacrifice reasonable expenses in order to bring a claim may, absent adequate exemptions, be unconstitutional”. Hearings fees should be made affordable to anyone who is not impoverished.

To read the Supreme Court judgment on this issue, click here.


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