Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, et al. v. Attorney General of British Columbia

(British Columbia) (Civil) (By Leave)


Constitutional law - Access to justice.


Case summaries are prepared by the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Canada (Law Branch). Please note that summaries are not provided to the Judges of the Court. They are placed on the Court file and website for information purposes only.

Charter of Rights - Constitutional law - Access to justice - Plaintiff in civil domestic trial applying to be relieved of obligation of paying hearing fees after 10 day trial - Constitutional validity of rule imposing hearing fees attacked - Whether hearing fees charged by a province for civil trials in a s. 96 court are unconstitutional as an impediment to access to justice - Whether unconstitutionality may be relieved by an enlarged reading of an indigency exemption - Whether, in the context of British Columbia (Attorney General) v. Christie, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 873, hearing fees are one of the conditions a province may impose on how and when people have a right to access the courts - Are the hearing fees set out in paragraph 14, Appendix C, Schedule 1 (B.C. Reg. 10/96, as amended) and the hearing fees set out in paragraphs 9 and 10 of Appendix C, Schedule 1 (B.C.Reg. 168/2009, as amended) unconstitutional on the basis that they infringe a right of access to justice and thereby offend the rule of law?

In 2009, Ms. Vilardell was involved in a 10 day family law trial with her former common law spouse concerning, inter alia, custody and mobility rights. Prior to trial, she applied for an order relieving her from government-imposed court hearing fees on the basis that she was woman of modest means seeking greater custody of her daughter, and that the imposition of hearing fees created an unreasonable barrier to access to justice. The Rules also provided for an exemption from payment of fees for the indigent. Her fees totalled $3,600. At the end of the trial, her application was stayed in order to facilitate intervention by the Canadian Bar Association - British Columbia Branch, the Attorney General of British Columbia, the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia and the West Coast Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund. The statement of claim was revised to include a challenge to the constitutionality of the hearing fees. A declaration was sought that the fee infringed a right of access to justice contrary to the rule of law and the Canadian Constitution, breached s. 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and ss. 7 and 28 of the Charter.