BC Family Justice Registry (Rule 5)
Rule requiring parties to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor for a triage appointment prior to a first appearance before a judge to clarify the options available for resolving their disputes.
Provincial Court (Family)
Ministry of the Attorney General
|December 1998||Rule 5 introduced in Surrey, Vancouver (Robson Square), Nelson, Castlegar and Rossland registries|
|May 2001||Expanded to Kelowna|
|November 2002||Evaluation released|
|April 2007||Expanded to Nanaimo|
On December 1, 1998, the Ministry of Attorney General introduced new Provincial Court (Family) Rules, designed to improve case management and to provide more opportunities for early settlement such as judicial Family Case Conferences. Changes to the rules were made in response to issues related to accessibility and timeliness of the family court process and to the complexity of the family justice system.
One of the new rules, Rule 5, was designed to reduce the use of the provincial court for Family Relations Act (FRA) matters by promoting the use of early, non-court methods of dispute resolution and by reducing the number and complexity of FRA trials.
Rule 5 introduced a new process, informally known as "triage", as a required first step in FRA cases in the designated Family Justice Registries of Surrey, Kelowna and Robson Square. On April 1, 2007, Nanaimo was established as a fourth Family Justice Registry. In these Registries, most parties to FRA cases are required to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor (FJC) for a triage appointment prior to a first appearance before a judge.
The triage process was designed to divert parties from court by providing and encouraging the use of alternatives to court. It was also hoped that triage would help parties better understand their issues and perhaps narrow them, so that court cases - where still used - could be shorter and deal only with issues where the parties continued to disagree.
[P]arties to FRA cases are required to meet with a Family Justice Counsellor (FJC) for a triage appointment prior to a first appearance before a judge. The FJC helps each party individually to clarify their issues and understand the options available for resolving their disputes. Mediation services are available free of charge to families of limited income, at the triage offices. FJCs may refer parties to mediation or other services; the parties may choose to act on these referrals or request a referral to court. Although Rule 5 makes triage mandatory, exemptions from the triage process are permitted where there is an urgent need for a court appearance and in other limited circumstances.
The evaluation investigated six issues:
- 1. Diversion from court: the extent to which Rule 5 diverts family matters from court.
- 2. Court use: the extent to which Rule 5 reduces the number of court appearances per application filed at court
- 3. Claims of urgency: whether there is evidence to suggest that parties file claims of urgency with their applications simply to avoid the mandatory triage process
- 4. Family case conferences: the use and effectiveness of family case conferences to resolve disputes within the court system
- 5. Case outcomes: the degree to which cases conclude with court orders, rather than consent orders or agreements, in Rule 5 registries and comparison sites
- 6. Benefits to clients: the perceptions of staff, the judiciary and clients themselves regarding the benefits of the triage process.
In order to evaluate the effectiveness of Rule 5, an extensive comparison of cases at pilot locations and comparator sites was conducted. Furthermore, files that preceded the rule changes at both sites were compared to files that came after the new rules. A total of 2,800 court files representing nearly 3,400 FRA applications were reviewed.
Additionally, 39 in-depth interviews were conducted with members of the judiciary, FJC's, and court registry staff. A short written survey of nearly 300 clients was used to obtain feedback on the Triage services.
Diversion from the Courts
Before the implementation of Rule 5, 2-3% of cases did not go to court. After the Rule 5 was implemented, 29% of cases did not proceed to court. The diversion that resulted from Rule 5 was approximately 70% greater than sites without the rule.
Rule 5 was meant to reduce the number of court appearances by helping litigants narrow their issues. The evaluation found that the number of court appearances were reduced in Rule 5 jurisdictions. There were 1.6 appearances in Rule 5 sites compared to 2.1 in regular jurisdictions. Furthermore, after the introduction of the new rules of court there was an overall reduction in appearances, however, the reduction was more pronounced in Rule 5 jurisdictions. There was a 41% decrease in appearances in Rule 5 sites, compared to 17% in regular jurisdictions.
Claims of Urgency
Some litigants try to avoid rule 5 by applying for exemptions. There was a slight increase in exemptions in Rule 5 jurisdictions (1%) as opposed to a 4% decrease in other jurisdictions.
Family Case Conference
There was no significant difference between case conference rule 5 jurisdictions and comparison sites. However, judges that were interviewed found them useful in reducing appearances. But they did find that time limitations affected their ability to have case conferences.
Case Settlement Patterns
It was anticipated that the number of cases settled by court orders would be reduced with the new court rules. However, there was in an increase of court ordered resolutions in comparison sites. At Rule 5 sites, there was a 5-6% decrease. This was not overly significant.
The triage process was intended to provide information, assistance and other benefits to clients. The hope was that their disputes could be resolved in a less costly manner. Through surveys and interviews, the report concluded that:
- Meeting with an FJC for triage helps parties to clarify and/or narrow issues, and consider the other party's issues.
- Triage has a diffusing effect, addressing the charged emotions that often characterize family justice cases.
Judges also expressed their preference for Rule 5. They preferred the personalized approach as much more effective at handling family disputes than the adversarial process.
- 93% of survey participants agreed or strongly agreed that going to the Family Justice Centre was useful to them, and
- 96% agreed or strongly agreed that they were given useful information by the FJC.