Court of King’s Bench: 2022 brings new name, streamlined procedures brought on by pandemic
The obvious change is the name: Court of King’s Bench.
Less obvious are the behind-the-scenes changes to the province’s Superior Court that have come into effect over the past year, from the number of its justices to the way claims are heard in chambers.
It was a tumultuous time.
With the death of Queen Elizabeth II this year and the succession of King Charles III, the name of the Court of Queen’s Bench automatically changed to the Court of King’s Bench.
Chief Justice Martel Popescul says the other changes, while less immediately visible, affect how the court operates.
For starters, the number of judges has increased by five positions over the past two years, the first increases since 1998.
« In 1980 there were 29 judges plus a chief for a total of 30, » Popescule said, adding that three more judges were added to the court in 1998.
“In April 2021, we received two more judges…then in March 2022, we received three, including an Associate Chief Justice position, which we have never had in this province before.”
Popescul said the recent increases, which brought the number of judges to 38, will allow the court to « handle things faster ».
The pandemic, which has delayed some jury trials and forced lawyers and judges to work remotely via video, has led to proceedings that are likely to drag on.
« Blitz of the Chambers »
Chambers, the forum where claims are heard in the space between the start of a case – say, a charge is laid – and the start of a trial, plays a quiet but essential role in the functioning of the court.
« Anything that happens in the meantime that requires a judge to rule – whether documents were provided correctly, whether a person has to answer questions, that examination for discovery or the dozens of other things that happen – all of these things are put on a rooming list,” he said.
To process about 1,000 applications in June 2020, Popescul says, the court launched a « chamber blitz » to clear a backlog of applications. The court set all requests at specific times and then limited parties to 30 minutes.
« Time-limited rooms turned out to be a good idea. So what we did was we instituted a practice guideline where rooms are now limited to 30 minutes per side. The 30 minutes that we gave them during the blitz were 30 minutes all inclusive,” he said.
« But we’ve found that sometimes if you focus people and say that’s your time, they’ll focus their arguments. »
Popescul says judges are constantly challenged as society and the law evolve.
Saskatchewan has a pre-trial conference system that gives lawyers and clients the opportunity to settle cases without going to trial. The conferences take place on the eve of the trials.
“Probably 60 to 70 percent of the cases we handle are resolved at a pre-trial conference,” Popecule said. « So a lot of them.
« But the flip side of that is that the ones that aren’t resolved are really difficult – the ones with very acute complex issues – and those are basically the types of cases that nobody could find a solution to or else they would. have been resolved,” he said.
« So these come to our office and the nature of these decisions becomes very complex to manage. »