Civil and family cases delayed as N.B. courts deal with high number of jury trials

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FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's Court of Queen’s Bench says it will have to adjourn some civil and family trials due to vacancies on the bench, an unprecedented number of jury trials and a large volume of child protection cases.

The court's top judge wrote last week to members of New Brunswick's law society, the justice minister and the chief justice of New Brunswick advising them that “logistical challenges” will delay an unknown number of civil and family trials, as well as appeals of small claims cases.

Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Tracey DeWare said in the June 9 memo that the large number of jury trials is "straining judicial resources” and she regrets that this step needs to be taken to give priority to criminal and child protection matters.

The province has 42 jury trials scheduled over the next 15 months and has judicial vacancies in Miramichi and Moncton. Judges could be reassigned to other areas as needed, the memo says. “Unfortunately, the reassignment of justices will require the adjournment of matters, as the dockets are largely fully booked for the balance of 2022 and well into 2023."

Going forward, new jury trials of more than two weeks will now be scheduled roughly nine to 15 months out to deal with the court’s backlog, she said in an emailed statement Friday.

In a second internal memo, sent Thursday, DeWare said she hopes that by the end of 2022 the court will have a “full judicial complement” and that small claims appeals will resume in January of 2023.

A spokesperson for the provincial Justice Department said in an email Friday that if judges are sitting every day and are unable to manage the load of trials, "it may be necessary to seek additional judicial positions from the government of Canada."

DeWare said in an emailed statement Friday that it’s not clear why there’s been such an increase in jury trials, but she said the phenomenon is not unique to New Brunswick. A decade ago there would be three jury trials in the province over the course of a year, but “now we have had three jury trials running at the same time.”

She said it’s unclear how many civil matters will be adjourned over the next few months, but the court will work with lawyers and affected parties and offer settlement conferences when appropriate.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2022.

— By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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