Alberta introduces streamlined civil and family matters court process

Alberta Justice has announced a streamlined trial process for those pursuing civil and family law cases in Alberta Court of King’s Bench.

The Alberta Rules of Court regulations have been amended to replace a seldom-used summary trial process for civil and family matters with a simplified process allowing issues to be resolved without having to go through lengthier regular or jury trial processes. The new system will take effect next year.

“Alberta’s government is committed to making the justice system more affordable and accessible,” said Justice Minister and Attorney General Mickey Amery in a statement Wednesday. “With streamlined trials, Albertans will have an easier and faster experience when resolving civil or family legal disputes.”

Red Deer lawyer Donna Purcell said there has always been a streamlined trial process but it is seldom used.

“The intention now through all of the consultations they’ve had with the bar and through the Rules of Court Committee that we will now have a process that people will be, hopefully, encouraged to use.

“It is much-needed in both areas (civil and family law) because the court system is way too expensive for the average Albertan.”

Purcell said the speedier process means that some of those beginning their court system journey may be able to resolve issues without in-person appearances so they can get their case before a judge sooner.

“The record exchange and the questioning that takes place in both family and civil matters take a lot of time and cost a lot of money and cause delays,” she said.

Being able to avoid making stressful court appearances will also reduce the emotional toll taken on those who find themselves in the justice system, especially when family matters are involved.

“That will be really helpful for litigants. It’s not just less time, less cost, but also less trauma.”

Purcell said Alberta has more than 40,000 civil cases filed a year. Many are diverted to arbitration to mediation to ease the backlog. Only about 200 cases will go before a judge.

“It’s so hard to get (to trial) that it’s basically almost a bar on access to justice and it causes great delay going through all the steps. So, we really have to simplify things these days if we want our justice system to work and for people to actually have access to justice.”

Resolving cases without a trial is useful, but it is still important that cases get before a judge to get decisions and precedents that will provide future guidance, she said.

Alberta Justice said the new process will rely mostly on written evidence with both sides expected to identify the real issues in dispute and come to an agreement on relevant facts and records. Any parties in civil or family matters can apply for a streamlined trial or the court may decide that is the best option.

The new process was based on recommendations from the Alberta Rules of Court Committee, which includes the chief justices or designate of the Court of King’s Bench, Court of Appeal and Court of Justice, two members appointed by the justice minister on the recommendation of the Law Society of Alberta and one member appointed by the justice minister alone.

Court of King’s Bench is the superior trial court in Alberta. The most serious criminal cases go there, but it also handles civil and family matters. The court has sole jurisdiction over divorce and the division of property in Alberta, and presides over matters involving child and spousal support and child custody and access.

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