Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Day in Divisional Court

It probably goes without saying, but as a student interested in litigation, if you ever get the chance to get into the courtroom, either to present or watch, you take it! Earlier this month, I was tasked to observe a judicial review hearing in the case of Sabadash v Statefarm at the Divisional Court.

If you are not familiar with Divisional Court, it is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice and acts as an appellate court. It hears certain types of appeals and applications for judicial review.

Unlike a trial, where there is one judge and sometimes a jury, counsel at Divisional Court present to three judges of the Superior Court. Counsel in Sabadash v Statefarm worked to persuade Madame Justice Swinton, Madame Justice Copeland, and Madame Justice Thorburn, a formidable panel of accomplished judges.

"As an appellate court, parties don’t advance new evidence at the hearing; instead, they muster their best legal arguments in support of their position."

In Sabadash v Statefarm, the legal issues were:
  • What is the standard of review for a Director’s Delegate’s decision at the Financial Services Tribunal?
  • What is the proper test for causation in accident benefits cases, “but-for” or “material contribution”?
  • What remedy should be ordered?
Observing appellate work is incredibly useful, especially to young lawyers. In under two hours, I observed two talented senior counsel present their arguments and listened as the judges asked various questions of each side. When arguing appellate work, you have to be ready to answer disjointed questions about any step of an analysis and know the foundation for your argument like the back of your hand.

Another useful strategy I learned in law school and observed being used by counsel was the use of an argument roadmap. Before launching into an hour-long presentation/conversation with your judges, they want to know what you’re going to talk about, and when they can ask the questions of you they formulated reviewing your material.

If you ever get the opportunity to get out of class or the office I can’t recommend Divisional Court hearings enough. Attending this hearing was a great way to expand my learning in a substantive area of law that I am practicing. It provided me with the chance to improve my advocacy by watching senior and experienced counsel, and finally, I was able to speak with both counsel, meeting members of the Toronto and Ottawa bar.

Outside of Toronto, Divisional Court sits infrequently on an annual schedule. If you are interested in learning about the Divisional Court, call your local courthouse to see when it is sitting next.

by Lee Chitty

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