The Conundrum of Competence

October 23, 2009 Hull & Hull LLP Litigation Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

The Rules of Civil Procedure are the the Barrister’s Bible. While we may not keep them on our bedside tables, they can be found on every good litigator’s desk as well as scattered throughout the office in strategic locations. 

As lawyers, we generally have good memories for anything logical or analytical –  case names can be remarkably pulled out of a hat at a moment’s notice. Not quite so for the Rules. Why? Because they aren’t always self evident or logical, especially when they work in tandem with other legislation that qualifies or expands on them. For example, did you know that a person who is “incapable” can, nonetheless, be “competent”?

Under Rule 31.03 (5)(b) a person who has been declared incapable of looking after their property or personal care pursuant to the Substitute Decisions Act may be examined if he or she is competent to give evidence. 

There is a prima facie right to examine an adverse party pursuant to Rule 31.03(1). All persons are presumed competent to give evidence pursuant to section 18 (1) of the Evidence Act. This presumption is rebuttable by sufficient evidence to the contrary. The onus rests on the party alleging incompetence to establish that the witness has no capacity to perceive, recollect and communicate evidence in the proceeding. (See R. v. Caron, 1994CanLII 8735 (ON CA) The evidence required for a determination of incompetence is medical evidence from a person qualified to speak with authority on the subject.   

In Trypis v. Lavigne, 2008 CanLII 26266 the Ontario Superior Court sets out the general principles applicable to the issue of competency of a party to give evidence. Trypis is twist in the other direction whereby a person who was “capable”, in that there had not yet been a finding of incapacity under the SDA, was found “incompetent” to testify.

If you’d like to see more on the subject, see Natalia Angelini’s blog, The Right to Examine Incapable Persons and Minors.  

Have a super weekend and thanks for reading this week.

Sharon Davis

Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.

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