Supreme Court Prime: Same day verdict delivery | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (February 5, 2021, 2:35 PM EST) --
Marcel Strigberger
The Supreme Court of Canada has been doing an increased number of quickies.

There has recently been a preponderance of bench rulings by the Supreme Court judges. Many lawyers have complained that when the court makes its decision, it should be delivered with detailed written reasons. A bench ruling is simply a finding or conclusion on the case in question, without offering a meaningful precedent or principle for future similar cases. So far no viable reason has been provided for the proliferation of these instant judgments. I can only guess why they are happening.

Maybe given the times, the judges have decided to have some well-deserved fun and diversion, turning the process into a challenge or contest of sorts, like an Olympic event. Can it be that high court judges elsewhere are giving brief decisions and our Supremes are trying to outdo them? They find out that a couple of European courts have tossed out appeals in under five minutes and they confer:

CHIEF JUSTICE: Team. We can do one in under four minutes.

JUSTICE A: I don’t know. There’s never been a four-minute decision yet.

JUSTICE B: I see the Belgian court just did it in a record four minutes, 37.19 seconds.

JUSTICE C: I know but they were really motivated. It was just before lunch.

CHIEF: Records are made to be broken. Let us meet early tomorrow morning for practice. It will be rigorous.

And speaking of meetings, given COVID-19, the hearings are presumably Zoomed. If so, maybe the judges are sitting at home. This could mean some distraction. Right after a hearing they chat for a couple of minutes:

JUSTICE A: What do you all say?

JUSTICE B: Can we do this quickly? I have to get back to my sourdough bread. It isn’t rising right.

JUSTICE C: I concur.

JUSTICE A: I also concur.

Whatever they are doing, at this rate I doubt any publisher will come up soon with a book of the Supreme Court’s greatest decisions for 2021. I don’t see a bestseller with all the pages reading, “Appeal allowed” or “Appeal dismissed.”

I wonder whether dissenting justices also follow the express route. That should be easy:

JUSTICE D: I do not concur.

Then again given it’s a dissent, this judge might actually not adopt the compact style of the majority judges and he or she might expand the reasons:

JUSTICE D: I do not concur. Because!

I wonder what is next. Maybe to ease the workload further, when the panel wants to dismiss an appeal, they can make more use of the super technology available and just run a short audio. The Von Trapps’ iconic song comes to mind: “So long, farewell, aufweidersehn, goodnight.”

If nothing else, this message would come through clearly.

I appreciate that these judges work hard and have lots of heavy case briefs to read.

But is it possible that one reason for the short decisions is that occasionally they cut corners? I am thinking about the Queen of Hearts in Alices Adventures In Wonderland, at the commencement of Alice’s trial (crime being that Alice beat the Queen in a game of croquet)

QUEEN OF HEARTS (to Alice, after repeatedly shouting “Off with her head”): Are you ready for your sentence?

ALICE: But there must be a verdict first.

QUEEN OF HEARTS: Sentence first. Then verdict!

This is most unlikely of course. I doubt any of the Supreme Court judges are into croquet.

I suppose to provide extensive written reasons in every case would result in delay. And who needs more delay given how busy we all are these days going nowhere? We may as well get all the legal excitement we can quickly, before returning to other important matters such as that sourdough bread.       

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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