Ontario has had a mandatory mediation program since 1999 for civil court actions. Surprise! That program is not available if you need to sue someone outside of Toronto, Ottawa or the County of Essex (Windsor). Finally, more than 20 years later, the Ministry of the Attorney General is considering equalization of access to mandatory mediation for all Ontarians.
Back in 2020, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General consulted with stakeholders in order to:
identify reforms that would improve early resolution of civil disputes and increase access to justice in civil proceedings through the potential expansion of the mandatory mediation program and enhancements to make it more affordable and efficient for litigants and lawyers.
In the current mandatory mediation program, the Ministry of the Attorney General maintains a roster of mediators who can be assigned to mediations if the parties do not select a mediator.
The practice is that the parties and the mediator decide when to hold the mediation, with the restriction that the mediation must be completed before the action can be placed on the list to get a trial date.
The current mandatory mediation program requires each party to pay an equal share of the cost of the mediation, but during the mediation the parties may decide that one party pays as part of the settlement. For mediators who are on the roster, the maximum amount that can be charged for mandatory mediation is set by regulation and when needed, mediators provide pro bono (no charge) mediation service.
The questions in the Ministry’s consultation included whether the types of issues for mandatory mediation should be expanded, issues with the rosters, costs for users, and generally how the program could be improved.
Statistics which have been made available about the current mandatory mediation program show that it has reduced the costs for the court system and the people using the system. Even for cases which are not settled in mediation, the costs of the lawsuit are reduced.
Here’s my two cents: Mandatory mediation for all Ontario is long overdue.
We should welcome the impact this needed change will have on access to justice for all Ontarians and on controlling the cost of court administration.
In addition, it would create more work for mediators and that is a very good thing for the users of the civil justice system.
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