Tag: best practices
It was 35 years ago today that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred and since then “Chernobyl” has become a metaphor for catastrophic disaster. Similar consequences can also result after family battles involving divorce proceedings or inheritance. Some useful considerations for lawyers involved in acrimonious litigation are found in Alsawwah v. Afifi, 2020 ONSC 2883. The comments of Justice Kurz have been edited below for brevity:
“Having been required by the exigencies of this motion to closely and frequently review the materials filed in this motion, I feel constrained to offer a few words of caution to the parties, their counsel and to the profession as a whole.”
“Litigants feel that they can leave no pejorative stone of personal attack untilled when it comes to their once loved one. Many lawyers, feeling dutybound to fearlessly advocate for their clients, end up abetting them in raising their discord to Chernobyl levels of conflict.”
“In the hopes of lowering the rhetorical temperature of the future materials of these parties and perhaps those of others who will come before the court, I repeat these essential facts, often stated by my colleagues at all levels of court, but which bear constant repetition:
- Evidence regarding ….moral failings is rarely relevant to the issues before the court.
- Nor are we swayed by rhetoric against the other party that verges on agitprop.
- Exaggeration is the enemy of credibility.
- Affidavits that read as argument rather than a recitation of facts are not persuasive.
- Hearsay allegations ….are generally ignored, whether judges feel it necessary to explicitly say so or not.
- A lawyer’s letter, whatever it says, unless it contains an admission, is not evidence of anything except the fact that it was sent.
- Facts win cases. A pebble of proof is worth a mountain of innuendo or bald allegation.
- One key to success in family law as in other areas of law is the race to the moral high ground. Courts appreciate those parties and counsel who demonstrate their commitment to that high ground in both the framing and presentation of their case.”
Justice Kurz offers a great deal of useful advice which reaffirms that the use of “Chernobyl” excess in litigation should be avoided at all times.
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My last blog discussed recent steps taken by the legislature to modernize the administrative side of the practice of law in Ontario. The practical side has also seen a number of developments that have emerged as a direct result of the ongoing pandemic. Some of these efforts have been spearheaded by the courts directly, while others, such as the Estate Arbitration and Litigation Management initiative, have been developed by members of the Bar an in effort to continue moving matters towards a resolution despite limited court access.
A recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice provides some important commentary on the judiciary’s expectations of parties and counsel to adapt to the current reality using these tools and others so that files can continue to progress.
In Arconti v Smith, Justice Myers grappled with the competing views of the parties as to whether an examination for discovery ought to proceed by way of a videoconference. The defendant, who was to submit to examination, proposed that the examination proceed by way of videoconference given the social distancing guidelines in place.
The plaintiff objected on several grounds. Among other objections, the plaintiff argued that the defendant and their counsel ought to be in each other’s presence to ensure the process proceeded smoothly. Alternatively, the plaintiff argued that the fact of conducting an examination remotely would “[deprive] the occasion of solemnity” and would otherwise make it more difficult to assess the defendant’s demeanour as a witness. The plaintiff argued that the examination ought to be deferred until social distancing guidelines were lifted.
Justice Myers’ initial response to the plaintiff’s position was simple, yet persuasive: “It’s 2020.” He held that the parties have technological tools at their disposal to conduct examinations and other litigation steps remotely, and that the use of such tools was especially salient in the context of the social distancing guidelines. Although Justice Myers advised that the concerns raised by the plaintiff might be relevant in different circumstances, they were not at issue there.
Ultimately, Justice Myers held that the use of readily available technology should be part of the skillset required both of litigators and the courts, and that the need to use such tools was merely amplified, not created, by the pandemic. The plaintiff was ordered either to conduct the examination of the defendant by videoconference, or to waive their entitlement to conduct the examination altogether.
This decision provides a glimpse into the court’s expectations of litigants and counsel to move matters forward in spite of the social distancing guidelines and court closures. While the current directives and legislation cannot be used to compel a party to perform a particular litigation step by audiovisual means, one may read Arconti as suggesting that the courts will nonetheless expect the parties to consider the entirety of their skillset to move matters along so that they do not languish in litigation purgatory as a result of social distancing guidelines.
Once social distancing guidelines have been lifted, it will likely be some time before the courts have dealt with the matters that were adjourned between March and June and are in a position to hear new matters. Parties who are willing to use the tools at their disposal to move matters forward and avoid contributing to this delay may find themselves commended by the judiciary. Those who are resistant to adapt, on the other hand, may expose themselves to commentary from a judge, or possibly cost consequences for their client, depending on the circumstances.
If you are interested in learning more about litigation procedure and estate planning best practices in the time of COVID-19, please consult our information guide.
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Solicitors preparing Wills need to be mindful of the obligations they owe to a testator. The seminal Court of Appeal decision in Hall v Bennett Estate provides a helpful refresher of the steps a solicitor should consider to ensure best practices are followed.
According to the Court, it is well established that a “solicitor who undertakes to prepare a will has the duty to use reasonable skill, care and competence in carrying out the testator’s intentions. This duty includes the obligation to inquire into and substantiate the testator’s capacity to make a will”.
Testing for capacity is fundamental – a solicitor has a duty to make inquiries into the testamentary capacity of the testator.
Should the solicitor have any doubt as to capacity, Justice Cullity in Scott v Cousins, famously states that “…careful solicitors who are in doubt on the question of capacity, will not play God – or even judge – and will supervise the execution of the will while taking, and retaining, comprehensive notes of their observations on the question”.
The Court of Appeal proceeds to summarize an article written by M.M. Litman & G.B. Robertson outlining errors made by solicitors in the preparation of a Will, leading to negligence claims, including failing to:
- obtain a mental status examination;
- interview the testator in sufficient depth;
- properly record or maintain notes; and
- test for capacity.
As such, notes from a drafting solicitor should ensure that all of these are addressed.
In certain instances, although narrow, a duty of care might also be owed to a disappointed beneficiary. A two part test is applied as set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Cooper v. Hobart.
While claims for negligence by testators and disappointed beneficiaries cannot be stopped, a file with detailed notes can go a long way in defending such a claim.
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