In a letter to the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia, the Assistant Deputy Minister, Court Services Branch, Ministry of Justice has advised that Court Services Branch intends to begin collecting hearing fees for civil matters set down for dates on or after August 1, 2016. For the time being, the Court Services Branch will not collect fees for family matters.
As I wrote before, the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada held that the hearing fees in British Columbia were an unconstitutional impediment to access to the courts in Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia v. British Columbia (Attorney General), 2014 SCC 59. Although the Supreme Court of Canada said that a province could charge hearing fees, the majority found British Columbia's regime unconstitutional, by exempting only those who are impoverished. The exemptions did not exempt those for whom the fees created undue hardship, but were not impoverished.
I have some doubts as to whether the changes the Government has made to the exemptions will pass constitutional muster, but the only prediction I will make is that there will be further litigation on this issue.
Irrespective of whether the Government of British Columbia can legally collect hearing fees, there remains the public policy issue of whether this is the right thing to do. I wish those making this decision would read and take to heart Mr. Justice McEwan's eloquent discussion about access to the courts in the Supreme Court of British Columbia's decision in this case, Vilardell v. Dunham, 2012 BCSC 748.
In making this decision, the Government of British Columbia does not appear to be taking access to justice seriously.