New Saskatchewan family law procedures include judicial case conferences, screening officers

By Ian Burns and Terry Davidson

Law360 Canada (November 2, 2022, 9:01 AM EDT) -- The family law process is undergoing major change in Saskatchewan, which the chief justice of the province’s Court of King’s Bench says is aimed at reducing the number of matters which become litigious.

The court’s new family law practice directive, which came into effect Nov. 1, introduces a requirement to participate in a judicial case conference (JCC) for many contested family law matters in Saskatoon and Regina. These conferences will occur before a chambers hearing is scheduled and are formal meetings before a judge aimed at providing an early opportunity to discuss ways in which some, or all of, the issues may be resolved other than by further litigation.

As part of this renewal, the province also recently brought in a pilot project placing a family law screening officer in both Saskatoon and Regina, whose duties will involve reviewing family court applications to ensure all required documents have been properly filled out, and that procedural prerequisites have been met.

Chief Justice Martel D. Popescul

Chief Justice Martel D. Popescul

Court of King’s Bench Chief Justice Martel D. Popescul said the court has always strived to be as innovative as possible to improve access and efficiency, and the family justice model was an area which had been identified as needing change — especially as it concerned chambers applications. He noted that a delegation of Saskatchewan judges travelled to Nova Scotia in 2019 to look at their family justice model, which employs a similar system of non-judicial officers which assist the court in marshalling files.

“We were impressed with a lot of the innovations and processes that Nova Scotia had put in place,” he said. “We realized that not everything would be transferrable to our province, but certainly a number of things could work to improve the system that we have. So, we commenced working on a new and improved model.”

The screening officers have also been trained to spot signs of family violence and identify any risk factors and warning signs. If violence is suspected, they “will guide individuals to the appropriate resources, including local community supports,” according to a recent provincial government news release.

Chief Justice Popescul said the cornerstone of the JCC model is to engage in a triage process before a court application is served, with the goal of limiting the number of matters that become litigious.

“We want to get at these files before people get entrenched and try to help them move forward,” he said. “Instead of having this very loose unrestricted system putting things onto a chambers list and seeing what happens, a lot of these things could be managed a lot more closely to making sure that we are going to be able to cut costs, reduce time and reduce conflict as well.”

Chief Justice Popescul said he believes the new process will decrease conflict, increase access to justice and minimize the risk of misuse and abuse of the litigation process. And he added that, while it may have been inspired by Nova Scotia, it has been developed purely by the judges of the Court of King’s Bench’s family law division with input from the bar and support from both the province and Ottawa.

“I’m very optimistic, and quite frankly I think it could be a real game changer in terms of how things are done in this province,” he said. “Whether it gets expanded beyond the family law area I don’t know, but family law is a subset of the general division — so it very well might.”

In support of the screening officer project, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Justice and Attorney General will receive from the federal government around $279,000 in 2022-23 and $273,000 for subsequent years, until 2025-26.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Ian Burns at or 905-415-5906, or Terry Davidson at or 905-415-5899.