Several registrars who work for Superior Court masters are about to lose their jobs, a move that has the head of the Toronto Lawyers Association concerned about the effect on court operations.
“Registrars and masters as well play a very important role in the administration of justice in Toronto,” says association president Sam Marr, who adds he believes the government should be consulting with the bar on the issue.
“It seems self-evident that the economic environment is having an impact on the province. So it would appear that the provincial government might have made the decision to terminate permanent registrar positions in an effort to cut costs.
I think it would be helpful if they were clear and precise about what exactly it is they’re doing in their communications with the bar, though, and I think economic issues are one of those areas that needs to be addressed more clearly.”
Working for Superior Court masters are registrars who help ease the burden on the court by handling certain administrative aspects of civil proceedings.
But Marr worries they’re about to become a symbol for the province’s fiscal pressures. “I still think it would be best if the provincial government discussed these issues directly and clearly with the bar to make sure any changes are done in the best possible way,” he says.
“It’s also vital that any new systems be implemented in a way that least disturbs the masters’ working environment while also taking into account any economic issues.”
According to Ministry of the Attorney General spokesman Brendan Crawley, the layoffs in January are the result of several management and operational changes at the Superior Court in Toronto and the regional senior justice’s office.
The government isn’t specifying how many people will lose their jobs, but Crawley noted the move doesn’t mean all registrars will be out of work in the new year.
“Staff will continue to support judicial scheduling, provide secretarial support for masters and in-court support for masters’ hearings,” said Crawley. “Courtroom registrars will continue to support masters’ hearings.
As a result of this realignment, though, some current masters’ administration staff have received surplus notices.”
Marr, however, doesn’t quite believe the government’s assertions that not all registrars will lose their jobs. He says a move to remove the positions could create significant problems for the civil justice system, particularly in Toronto where many of them work.
“They have significant expertise in the Rules of Civil Procedure and help to manage complex multiparty cases and Construction Lien Act matters. They also conduct settlement conferences and handle the majority of procedural matters.”
The layoffs aren’t the only matter between the masters and the provincial government right now. In December of last year, the provincial government appealed a Superior Court judge’s ruling that said the pay and terms of office for case management masters were unconstitutional.
In that decision, Justice Terrence Platana ruled two portions of the Courts of Justice Act incorrectly breached judicial independence.
He went on to suspend the declaration of invalidity for 12 months to “allow the government to make legislative changes to create an independent, effective, and objective process for determining the remuneration and tenure of case management masters.”
The matter moved on to the Ontario Court of Appeal earlier this year. There, the Crown sought an order to set aside the remuneration-related elements of Platana’s judgment and, if it failed, an extension of the stay period to 12 months from March 3 of this year.
But in a ruling earlier this year, the Court of Appeal found that the “application judge was correct to conclude that the current process for setting the remuneration of case management masters was unconstitutional” and extended the suspension of the declaration of invalidity for 12 months following the date of its decision.
In the meantime, Marr says he hopes the provincial government will work with legal organizations to come up with solutions to the registrar issue.
“We all pick up the paper every morning and see the economic news,” he says. “So we understand the provincial government’s concern for savings.
But if savings do have to ultimately be found, it’s my opinion that the government should consult with the bar association, masters, and other members to ensure masters are minimally disrupted and that the most efficient delivery of justice to the citizens of Toronto is met.
There may be efficiencies we’ve thought of that they may have not even considered, so it’s important that there’s room for collective discussion.”
For more information, see "Pay structure for court management masters unconstitutional: judge."