On June 1, 2020, the Ministry of the Attorney General of BC announced that it will replace the current Provincial Court Rules (Family) with a new set of rules effective May 2021 (the “New Rules”).
The New Rules will apply to all family matters heard in Provincial Court including matters regarding:
- Spousal and child support;
- Parenting arrangements;
- Protection orders; and
- Family Maintenance Enforcement Act Issues.
The key changes are:
- Self-Represented Litigant Friendly – The New Rules aim to provide a more streamlined court process with easier to understand forms and language. The New Rules also allow ease of attendance by electronic communication and removes the need for signatures and/or sworn Affidavits prior to filing, in exigent circumstances. (Rule 172)
- Family Justice Counsellor Triage – As funding becomes available, certain registries will be designated as “Early Resolution Registries”. If a claim is filed in an Early Resolution Registry, the rules dictate that parties will participate in an assessment by a family justice counsellor to help identify their legal and non-legal needs. This assessment will include screening for family violence and if the matter is appropriate to proceed to consensual dispute resolution. The early dispute resolution service requires parties to attend one mediation session to try to resolve their dispute. If unsuccessful or if the matter is not appropriate for dispute resolution, the parties will proceed to court.
- Family Justice Managers – This is a new position created under the New Rules which is defined as follows:
“family justice manager” means a person
(a) in a class of decision makers prescribed under the Family Law Act, and
(b) appointed as a decision maker under the Provincial Court Act. This is a new position that has authority as set out in the New Rules. Decisions made by Family Justice Managers are reviewable by a Provincial Court Judge.
- Family Management Conferences – Given the presumed reduced caseload in Early Resolution Registries, the New Rules contemplate Family Justice Managers (currently a role filled by Provincial Court Judges) proactively engaging with parties by helping them define issues and allowing Family Justice Managers to make interim orders pending a final hearing. It appears Family Management Conferences will replace the current family remand list.
- Pilot of Informal Trial Process – Division 5 allows parties to consent to an “informal trial”. During the informal trial process, the trial judge may make inquiries of either party regarding any relevant issue or matter. Also, on the judge’s own initiative, the trial judge may allow a witness other than a party to give evidence, including expert evidence. Under this process, a judge can make any orders as they would in a traditional trial setting. This portion of the New Rules does not take effect until 2022.
- Acknowledging Children’s Rights – Rule 161 mandates that if a child is involved, the Court must consider the child’s views unless it is inappropriate to do so. Rule 162 provides procedures allowing a child’s lawyer to be included in the proceedings without requiring an application to Court.
- Trial Readiness Statement – At least 7 days before a Trial Preparation Conference or 30 days prior to the first day of trial, both parties must file a Form 22 “Trial Readiness Statement.” Similar to a Trial Brief under the BC Supreme Court Family Rules, the Trial Readiness Statement requires parties to indicate if they will be represented, what issues are to be decided at trial, if they are ready to proceed to trial, any further requirements necessary to prepare for trial and any special requirements the party may have.
The purpose of the New Rules is to “encourage parties to resolve their cases by agreement or to help them obtain a just and timely decision in a way that:
(a) takes into account the impact that the conduct of a case may have on a child and family,
(b) minimizes conflict,
(c) promotes cooperation between the parties, and
(d) provides processes for resolution that are efficient and consistent with the complexity of the cases to be resolved.”
While we will have to wait and see if this is accomplished through the New Rules, it appears to be a step in the right direction.