Tag: civil procedure
Many of us are familiar with the expression: “Time waits for no one.” We also previously blogged about the impact time has on all parties in litigation: “No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim.” (So says Justice Nakatsuru in the opening line of his decision in Sinclair v. Harris.)
In general, claims must be commenced in a timely fashion. If too much time passes–depending on the circumstances and nature of the claim–parties may be prohibited from commencing a lawsuit, or have their lawsuit dismissed, by what is known as a ‘limitation period’.
With the recent developments of COVID-19, however, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made an Order under s. 7.1 of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending limitation periods in Ontario. This suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. A copy of the Order can be found here.
What happens when the suspension is lifted? It will be interesting to see if limitation periods go back to existing the day this suspension is lifted, or if further legislation may be needed to deal with this issue. For now, it appears that “time” is waiting for everyone.
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Recent developments with COVID-19 mean a number of procedural changes have been put in place at the Toronto Estates List. The following operations are effective as of March 23, 2020:
1. All regular matters which have been scheduled and are not urgent, or time sensitive, are adjourned to after June 1, 2020 and are not currently being rescheduled, subject to any further direction from the Court (in accordance with the Notice to the Profession issued by Chief Justice Morawetz, March 15, 2020).
2. The judges of the Toronto Estates List will continue to hear and decide urgent and time-sensitive matters. The procedure for urgent matters on the Estates List is the same as the procedure for urgent matters on the Commercial List and will be in accordance with the procedure set out in the Changes to Commercial List Operations in light of the COVID-19 March 16, 2020 advisory, with necessary changes. For greater certainty, all urgent requests and materials on the Estates List should be sent to the Commercial List trial coordinator at Toronto.firstname.lastname@example.org
3. There is no change to the usual procedure for filing materials in matters that are to be considered by the Court in writing, including motions for consent orders and ex parte orders. Materials for matters to be heard in writing may still be filed at the Estates Office, subject to any further direction of the Court.
4. Applications for Certificates of Appointment (i.e. probate) are still be accepted and processed by the Estate Office.
5. Notices of Application (Forms 14E, 74.44, and 75.5) will continue to be issued by the Estates Office but instead of fixing a return date the Notice of Application shall indicate that the matter will be heard: “on a date to be fixed by the Registrar.”
6. Notices of Objections (Form 75.1) may be filed in the Estates Office as usual.
The PDF copy of the above notice can be found here.
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I recently read an interesting article by Helene Love titled “Seniors on the Stand: Accommodating Older Witnesses in Adversarial Trials”, that explored the intersection of age and its effects on witness testimony in trials. Helene’s article considers whether the legal and procedural rules that have been developed to ensure that only the most reliable evidence is used in a trial may disproportionately be excluding evidence from seniors. The paper assessed the risks associated with aging, as well as the practical and legal issues related to aging witnesses, and offered suggestions to accommodate senior witnesses within our current legal framework. I will summarize some of the key considerations below.
The objective of a trial is to discover the truth. Examinations of witnesses under oath allow the trier of fact to test the reliability of witnesses, making examinations during trial a fundamental aspect of the modern day trial. Interestingly, the basis for requiring live testimony of witnesses dates back to the 16th and 17th century trials by jury, whereby jurors were not prevented from relying on untrustworthy sources of information, and abuses of power were common. In order to enhance the reliability of trials and control the quality of evidence, judges created the requirement for witnesses to provide evidence in person. The reliability of a witness is typically assessed by a judge based on a witness’s ability to observe, recall, and then recount and event in the courtroom.
Reports indicate that within the next 20 years, the number of Canadians aged 65 years or older will double, meaning that there will be more senior citizens involved in the justice system. Given the significant increase in older persons acting as witnesses, there are a number of ways that aging can impact a witness’s ability to provide evidence during a trial.
Some of the risks associated with aging include:
- Attrition – depending on the complexity of a case, it can take months or even years to finally reach a trial date, meaning that there are increased chances that an older witness, particularly those over 80 years old, have an increased chance of dying before having a chance to take the witness stand.
- Changes to the Sensory Organs and the Brain with Age – biological changes to sensory organs and the brain can result in a decrease in perceptual acuity and gaps in memory.
- Mobility Issues – Health Canada reports that by age 75, 29% of men and 38% of women report at least one physical limitation, making it more difficult to attend court in person, particularly if that appearance is extended over a period of time.
- Strokes and Dementia – Individuals aged over 65 are ten times more likely to have a stroke, and individuals who have had a stroke are more than twice as likely to develop dementia. Dementia can involve a range of symptoms, including physical limitations such as limb stiffness to the most commonly known type of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease. Individuals with cognitive impairments would not be competent to testify in a trial.
This begs the question, how can the legal system accommodate senior witnesses while maintaining accuracy and reliability as top priorities in the pursuit of the truth? I will address some of the main solutions proposed in the civil context (although there were a number of great alternatives proposed in the criminal context that I encourage you to read).
- Expedited trial scheduling or proceeding by way of summary trial. Although not discussed in this article, another possibility in Ontario may be to request a case management judge who can determine whether the case should be heard in an expedited manner.
- Obtain witness evidence at an earlier point in time through discoveries, pre-trial examinations, or affidavit evidence to be relied on at a later date.
- Use the principled approach to hearsay. The rule against hearsay states that earlier statements made by others outside of court are presumptively inadmissible because they were not made under oath, in the presence of the trier of fact and/or tested by cross examination. However, hearsay statements can be admitted for their truth if they are sufficiently necessary and reliable, as outlined in the leading Supreme Court of Canada case of R v Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57
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 In the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, 14 women and 6 men were executed on charges of witchcraft based entirely on supernatural visions that indicated the presence of witchcraft, the reliability of which went untested during the trial.
I recently attended a panel discussion with judges of Toronto’s Commercial and Estate Lists, the purpose of which was to explore tips for effective practice and advocacy. A key takeaway from this discussion was that case conferences are a valuable tool in a litigator’s toolbox, particularly when litigation becomes contentious.
Case conferences are governed by Rule 50 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The purpose of Rule 50 is to promote settlement of some or all of the issues in dispute without a hearing, and to obtain orders or directions to ensure that any necessary hearing is expeditious, orderly, and efficient.
Rule 50.13 dictates that a judge may direct a case conference before a judge or case management master, in either an action or application, on his or her own initiative or at a party’s request. A judge can direct a case conferences at any stage of the litigation. Pursuant to Rule 50.13(5), at a case conference, the judge or case management master may:
- identify the issues, noting those that are contested and those that are not;
- explore methods to resolve the contested issues;
- if possible, secure the parties’ agreement on a specific schedule of events in the proceeding;
- establish a timetable for the proceeding; and
- review and, if necessary, amend an existing timetable.
As discussed by my colleague, Kira Domratchev, in her blog on Rule 49 offers to settle, Ontario is a jurisdiction where parties are encouraged to settle their legal disputes prior to reaching the ultimate hearing of a matter. Case conferences are a valuable tool for parties who are looking to narrow the issues before the court, establish a timetable, or potentially reach a full and final settlement.
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What happens if an individual dies intestate, and upon application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Without a Will, a Not Clear Certificate is returned to the applying party?
Pursuant to Rule 74.12 of the Rules of Civil Procedure:
(1) A certificate of appointment of estate trustee shall not be issued until the court has received from the Estate Registrar,
(d) on an application where there is no will, a certificate that no will or codicil has been deposited in the Superior Court of Justice.
A will being deposited in the Superior Court of Justice does not necessarily mean that the will belongs to the deceased individual. Therefore, while one may receive a Not Clear Certificate (“Certificate”) from the Estate Registrar for Ontario, it does not guarantee that a will exists in the deceased’s name. Rather, the Certificate creates the need for the applicant to take extra steps to ensure that the wills that are deposited with the Superior Court of Justice are not wills that belong to the deceased.
What Steps Should You Take?
A Certificate sent by the Estate Registrar for Ontario will contain a list of different deposit dates and court file numbers, corresponding to wills that are already deposited with the Superior Court of Justice. The listed wills on deposit will all have names similar to that of the deceased individual.
Upon receipt of the Certificate, it is the applicant’s or their lawyer’s responsibility to track down each of the deposited wills, in order to prove that they do not belong to the deceased. This involves attending the Registrar of the Court where the will has been
deposited. In some circumstances, faxing the Certificate will suffice. The Registrar will then deliver to the applicant a photocopy of the Envelope for Will on Deposit. This will allow the applicant to make the necessary investigation to determine that the will on deposit is not the will of the deceased. The Envelope for Will on Deposit contains the name of testator, the testator’s address, the name of the executor, the executor’s address, and the date the will was deposited for safe keeping.
Once the applicant gathers all of the Envelopes for Will on Deposit, the applicant must go through the envelopes and ensure they do not belong to the deceased. The applicant must then prepare an Affidavit stating that each Envelope for Will on Deposit does not belong to the deceased. The Affidavit should be filed at the Court, along with the Certificate. Once the Court is satisfied the deposited wills do not belong to the deceased, a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Without a Will should be issued. If the will does, in fact, belong to the deceased, different steps will need to be taken in order to obtain a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.
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On occasion, a Court may conclude that a disgruntled beneficiary’s agenda was simply to put up roadblocks to the executor without having any real intention or expectation of successfully challenging the validity of a Will. Such was the case in Elliot v Simmonds  EWHC 732 (CJ), which imposed costs sanctions against an individual whose “passive objection” to a Will was found to unreasonably require the executor to prove the Will in solemn form.
In England and Wales (as in Ontario), a person with a financial interest or the executor may seek proof of a will in solemn form (i.e. in open court) upon notice to all persons appearing to have a financial interest in the estate. The court must be satisfied, upon the examination of the witnesses, of the due execution of the Will and of the testamentary capacity of the testator. The onus of proving due execution and testamentary capacity is upon those propounding the Will. (The Ontario Court of Appeal recently pronounced in detail on proof in solemn form in the context of Rule 75 of the Rules of Civil Procedure in Neuberger Estate v. York 2016 ONCA 191). A previous blog on Neuberger Estate v. York can be found here.
In Elliot v. Simmonds, the Deceased (Mr. Jordan) left his entire estate to his wife (Ms. Elliot) and left nothing to his illegitimate daughter (Ms. Simmonds). Ms. Simmonds lodged a caveat (analogous to a Notice of Objection in Ontario) to prevent Ms. Elliot from obtaining probate. Furthermore, Ms. Simmonds made various allegations impugning the validity of the Will, but took no active steps to produce evidence in support. Eventually, the executor of the estate (Ms. Elliot) had no option but to prove the Will in solemn form.
Pursuant to the Civil Procedure Rules (England and Wales) (“CPR”), on a proceeding proving a will in solemn form, the Objector (in this case Ms. Simmonds) can effectively do nothing but insist that the executor attend at trial and prove the Will. Moreover, Ms. Simmonds (wrongfully, as it turned out) assumed that she was immunized against costs of her actions by part 57.78(5)(b) of the CPR which provides that:
(b) If a defendant [i.e. Objector] gives such a notice [i.e. a Notice of Appearance], the court will not make an order for costs against him unless it considers that there was no reasonable ground for opposing the Will.
At the conclusion of the trial, substantial costs had been incurred by Ms. Elliot who propounded the Will. Ms. Elliot made an application for costs, arguing that Ms. Simmonds acted unreasonably by passively placing the burden on Ms. Elliot to prove the Will notwithstanding that Ms. Simmonds had been in possession of all relevant evidence in advance of the proceeding (which supported the will’s validity), adduced no witnesses or medical evidence to the testator’s capacity, and acted obstructively in the proceedings. As such, the judge agreed with Ms. Elliot and ordered precedent setting costs of GBP65,000 against Ms. Simmonds.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Umair Abdul Qadir discuss the new Rule 75.2 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 75.2 provides the Court with the authority to order a mediation in certain estate litigation matters even when mandatory mediation under Rule 75.1 does not apply, and came into force on January 1, 2016.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.