Québec government tables bill to streamline access to justice in civil cases (and amend civil procedure)
On February 1st, 2023, the Government of Québec tabled Bill 8, An Act to improve justice efficiency and accessibility, in particular by promoting mediation and arbitration and by simplifying civil procedure in the Court of Québec (the “Bill”). Its aim, according to the Minister of Justice, is to provide efficient, accessible, faster and less expensive justice services.
The Bill proposes significant amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure (the “C.C.P.”) that will be of immediate interest to both legal practitioners and justice system users:
- The ceiling for the Court of Québec’s jurisdiction will be set at $75,000 (and it will have concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court, at the plaintiff’s option, in cases concerning amounts between $75,000 and $100,000).
- The monetary threshold entitling the parties to a pre-trial examination is raised from $30,000 to $50,000.
- New rules will apply to applications in matters valued at less than $100,000 (except as authorized by the Court):
- Case protocols are no longer required.
- Statements in originating applications are limited to five pages.
- Preliminary exceptions must be filed within 45 days of the application.
- Defense must be disclosed within 85 days of the summons.
- The origin of evidence and integrity of the information it contains are presumed to be admitted, except objections from a party.
- A settlement conference must be held (and can be converted into a pre-trial conference).
- The parties must seek a joint expert opinion in cases where the value under dispute is $50,000 or less.
The Bill also responds to a decision, Reference re Code of Civil Procedure (Que.), art. 35 (the “Reference”), rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada on June 30, 2021.
In that key ruling, the Supreme Court considered an application filed by justices of the Superior Court of Québec seeking a declaratory judgement of unconstitutionality of article 35(1) C.C.P., which assigned exclusive jurisdiction in civil matters where the value of the object or sum claimed is less than $85,000.
The appellants contended that the Court of Québec’s monetary threshold was inconsistent with section 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as it denied Québec litigants the right to file civil claims valued at under $85,000 with the Superior Court, thereby preventing the Superior Court from stating and advancing the law with respect to such claims.
The Supreme Court concurred, finding article 35(1) C.C.P. unconstitutional for impermissibly infringing on the core jurisdiction of the superior courts. One ground for this decision is the Supreme Court’s finding that an acceptable modern day equivalent of the monetary threshold in force when the Constitution Act, 1867 was enacted would be between $63,698 and $66,008, in today’s money.1
The Supreme Court then established a timeframe for the Québec government to amend article 35(1) C.C.P. with new legislative measures to make it constitutional.2
The Québec government has presented the amendments in the Bill as provisions designed to achieve an important social objective, namely make justice more accessible. And this is indeed one criterion among others of equal importance considered by the Supreme Court in the analysis of article 35(1) C.C.P.
It remains to be seen whether the proposed amendments adequately address concerns raised about the threshold of the Court of Québec’s monetary jurisdiction.
In any event, subject to the ongoing consideration process underway in the National Assembly, the current version of the Bill is slated to come into force, with its new provisions and amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure, on June 30, 2023.
1 Paragraph 118.
2 Paragraphs 151 to 159.