"Without class actions, the doors of justice remain closed to some plaintiffs, however strong their legal claims. Sharing costs ensures that injuries are not left unremedied.”
So said the Supreme Court of Canada in Western Canadian Shopping Centres v. Dutton, one of its 2001 trilogy of class action cases. Six years later in Kerr v. Danier Leather, however, the Supreme Court itself expressed doubt that class actions inevitably engage access to justice considerations. There is no question that class actions do increase the number and types of claims being litigated. Yet the extent to which they are successful in providing a fair remedy for the injuries suffered by the class, or whether they provide sufficient incentives to private Attorneys General to prosecute on behalf of the powerless, is not self-evident.
Access to justice has been a dominant theme in legal discourse for decades, and continues to be described as the overarching issue in civil justice reform initiatives. While the mantra of access to justice is repeated in virtually every class action decision issued by courts across the country, surprisingly few commentators have attempted to evaluate whether or to what extent class actions have, in fact, improved access to justice. On the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s trilogy of class action decisions, it is appropriate to revisit the aims of class proceedings legislation, assess the extent to which access to justice has been advanced, and discuss the ways in which the practice of, and approach to, class actions can be revised to increase their access to justice potential.
In one of the country’s first academic conferences on class actions, the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Law will bring together eminent scholars, judges and lawyers from Canada and abroad to discuss and critique the role of class actions in our legal landscape. Over the course of two days, conference participants will examine critically a form of litigation that has grown exponentially in the decade since the Supreme Court of Canada signalled the permanent arrival of class actions in Canada. Speakers will assess various elements of class action litigation through the lens of access to justice. Questions to be discussed include:
This program has been accredited by the LSUC for one hour toward the Professionalism Requirement.