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Remarks by Chief Justice John D. Richard at Special Sitting of The Federal Court of Canada

On Friday, January 7, 2000 at 11:00 A.M.

The Federal Court of Canada, which I now have the honour and responsibility to preside, is a national institution established under section 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867, for the better administration of the laws of Canada.

The Federal Court of Canada, established in 1971, is a national, bilingual institution dispensing justice from coast to coast. It is also a bi-juridical court, applying both the common law and the civil law.

The Court's principal office is in Ottawa but it regularly sits throughout Canada. Its principal areas of jurisdiction are judicial review of decisions of federal boards and tribunals, claims by and against the federal Crown, maritime claims and intellectual property litigation. There are 96 federal statutes which grant it additional jurisdiction.

The important contribution of the Federal Court to civil law was recognized in a 1991 seminar by professor Denis Lemieux of Université Laval, who said that the greatest contribution of the Court to civil law was to continually compare it with common law, a contact that proved stimulating for both legal systems and for federal law in general. This kind of interaction will become common in the future with the support of litigants and it will become anchored in Court jurisprudence such that federal law will draw from the roots of our two legal systems whenever it can thereby ensure better justice.

The Federal Court is often described as a specialized court and so it is in terms of many areas of its jurisdiction such as judicial review and intellectual property. However, it is a court whose decisions affect a great many individuals. It is a court which is easily accessible, which gives thoughtful attention to matters brought before it and which produces well-considered and well-written judgments.

There is an indispensable role for the Federal Court in Canada. I and my colleagues are proud to be members of a court that is a truly national institution. We salute those who preceded us and look forward to the challenges of the future.

In a commentary published in 1991, a visionary professor by the name of John Evans, predicted that the Federal Court of Canada would have a future in the 1990's and beyond. Convinced of the soundness of his prediction, he accepted an appointment to the Federal Court on June 23, 1998.

The Court enters the second millennium with renewed confidence, enthusiasm and vigor. It also presents a new image.

The Court has a full complement of judges. The Court is now truly national not only in its jurisdiction but also in its composition. All of the provinces are now represented on the Court.

The Federal Court is presently composed of 11 appelate judges and 20 trial judges for a total of 31 judges. Ten of these judges must be from the Province of Quebec. In addition, there are 11 judges who have elected supernumerary status and who are available on a part-time basis.

From and after the date of my appointment as Associate Chief Justice on June 23, 1998, there have been 11 new appointments to the Federal Court of Canada. This represents more than one-third of all the full-time positions on the Court, and all within the last 18 months. Twenty-five per cent of the full-time judges are women.

In the last four months, I have administered the oath of office to Justice O'Keefe, in Charlottetown, to Justice Malone, in Calgary, to Justice Heneghan, in St. John's, and to Justice Hansen, in Ottawa. Next week, Justice Dawson will be sworn-in in Winnipeg.

The new rules of Court came into effect in April 1998. Their objective is to secure the just, most expeditious and least expensive determination of every proceeding on its merits. A major accomplishment of the Court in the last 18 months has been to implement successfully these new rules, and, in particular a reduction in the backlog of proceedings. Concurrently, the Court implemented a case management system and dispute resolution services.

The Court has also made a concerted and organized effort to reach out to members of the legal community. In particular, it has twinned judges with law faculties, established bench and bar liaison committees with the Canadian Bar and le barreau de Montréal and participated in continuing legal education programs on a frequent basis.

In the same commentary made in 1991, Justice Evans opined that the Federal Court is now better equipped to come into its own as a specialist public law court, second in importance only to the Supreme Court of Canada. He added that a decent building to house the Court would not be amiss.

The need for an appropriate building to house the Federal Court in the National Capital has never been more urgent.

Presently, the Court is housed in four separate locations in the City of Ottawa: the Appeal Division, on the ground floor of the Supreme Court of Canada Building, the Trial Division, in the Royal Bank Centre, the Registry, in the Lorne Building and the administrative services, at 434 Queen Street.

The cost and inefficiency of the present situation is palpable.

There is a pressing need to find a long-term solution to the accommodation needs of the Federal Court of Canada. This national institution should be housed in the National Capital in a manner that is not only operationally efficient but in a manner which also recognizes its national importance.

As Chief Justice, I am willing to work towards such a solution.

I am encouraged by the collegiality, good will and spirit of cooperation which exists in the Court.

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Date Modified: 2015-09-09