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Assessments mess

Editorial Obiter

In March 2017, an Ontario Divisional Court ruling had sharp words for the province’s Ministry of the Attorney General over issues with its assessments office. A year later, another case has surfaced critiquing the assessments office and suggesting a review is needed about the way the process is done.  In the most recent ruling — released this month — Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick Monahan said the government should conduct a review of the process for assessing lawyers’ accounts because of delays that are undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. 

In Linett v. Aird & Berlis LLP, Monahan said the vast majority of the delay was due to the assessment officer involved and it raised “serious questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the current process for assessing solicitors’ accounts in Ontario,” thus requiring review. 

“Not only is this important for the administration of justice, as well as for solicitors and their clients, it is simply a matter of consumer protection,” he said. 

To make matters worse, lawyers have said backlogs continue at the assessments office at the Superior Court in Toronto.

“If you can’t get these backlogs cleared up and people wind up waiting and waiting for 18 months or whatever length of time it takes, it really sends the wrong message to the public [and] it hurts the administration of justice,” says Robert Schipper.

For its part, MAG has said there have already been improvements made and that the provincial ministry has “taken concrete steps to ensure that matters at assessments offices are heard in a responsive, effective and efficient manner.”

“In September 2016, the Ministry hired additional assessment officers and co-ordinated additional assistance from other regions in Ontario to manage the workload in Toronto,” said a MAG spokesman. “By taking these steps, we have seen a reduction in the time needed for a dispute to be reviewed.”

However, from the additional complaints, it’s clear more needs to be done.

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