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Double-booking is the new normal in the push to cut wait times for civil trials in Manitoba.

Before new rules and tougher timelines were implemented in January, the earliest trial dates were more than 30 months away for civil disputes in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Now, most are happening within a year — and civil lawyers are crediting hands-on judges and stricter scheduling for the change.

Civil trial dates typically are being set within a year to 15 months, Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said in an interview with the Free Press three months after the new rules came into effect. According to those rules, trial dates had to be set within 18 months after the case’s first pre-trial conference.

“That’s extraordinary in terms of the transformation,” Joyal said.

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Double-booking is the new normal in the push to cut wait times for civil trials in Manitoba.

Before new rules and tougher timelines were implemented in January, the earliest trial dates were more than 30 months away for civil disputes in the Court of Queen’s Bench. Now, most are happening within a year — and civil lawyers are crediting hands-on judges and stricter scheduling for the change.

Civil trial dates typically are being set within a year to 15 months, Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said in an interview with the Free Press three months after the new rules came into effect. According to those rules, trial dates had to be set within 18 months after the case’s first pre-trial conference.

"That’s extraordinary in terms of the transformation," Joyal said.

Civil litigation lawyers who were waiting nearly twice as long to go to trial under the old system raised concerns the court’s fears about delays in criminal and child-protection cases were forcing civil cases to languish on the backburner. Now, the court’s willingness to double-book trials, even when lawyers already have a trial scheduled for the same day, is making a difference.

"They are slotting more trials per day, because hardly any cases in civil matters actually go to trial. Most of them are resolved before the trial, so I think the court has said that they can schedule more because almost all of them are going to settle in any event," said veteran civil litigation lawyer Bill Gange. "So that has resulted in a much, much improved timeline."

Along with setting shorter time limits for disputes involving less than $100,000 and streamlining the pre-trial process, the new rules give judicial officials more power to steer cases toward a solution and make decisions earlier.

Hands-on judges have helped make the court process more efficient, while lawyers and their clients work within the set timelines, Winnipeg civil litigation lawyer Ian Scarth said.

"Judges are, under these new rules, taking a lot more involvement in getting the matter ready to go to a contested hearing," Scarth said. "At the first pre-trial, a judge is supposed to set the trial date, explore a settlement, see what areas of resolution are possible, and then there are also other processes you can use within the courts to settle matters.

"So instead of a judge having to spend two weeks at a trial, if the judge can sit with the parties throughout a day to try and resolve it, that frees up time," he added, describing the changes as "a huge benefit" to those working within the system. "Under these new rules, you’ll get in front of a judge to decide the matter a lot quicker. That’s really what it is at the end of the day."

It could take another year or two to see the full effect of the streamlined court process, since most of the civil trials that are scheduled to happen this year were arranged under the old system. But the tight timelines will be tested even further starting next year, when civil cases more than three years old could be tossed out of court.

The change to delay-motion rules in civil cases comes into effect Jan. 1, 2019, allowing cases that have languished that long to be dismissed unless all parties involved agreed with the delay or there were other exceptions.

As for those double-booked cases, the court released new guidelines in mid-March for what to do if more than one case is headed to trial at the same time, pledging to consider which one needs to wrap up sooner before re-scheduling.

"It almost certainly will work out," Gange said of the double-booking process. "There might be some glitches along the way, a year from now or eight months from now, but at least we’ve got a trial date."

katie.may@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @thatkatiemay

Read more by Katie May .


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