ALRI’s Comprehensive Law Reform Project

As we know, law reform can take many forms. The LCO has already undertaken very different kinds of projects. Its division of pensions on marital breakdown project was a relatively straightforward statutory amendment exercise. It could have been more extensive and comprehensive, but we decided, for several reasons, to do a “quick and dirty” job on this issue. We have also begun major, multidisciplinary projects that are ambitious in scope; our older adults project, designed to develop a coherent approach to the law as it affects older adults is an example and it expected to take about three years to complete and will result in contract research papers and discussion papers, as well as an interim and final report. Consultation will be extensive.

These are two very different types of projects, both legitimate examples of law reform agency activity. Recently, the Alberta Law Reform Institute released its final report in a project that combines some of the features of both these LCO projects, a revision of the civil rules of court. It appears on its face to be a “simple” statutory amendment exercise (albeit about rules), but it has taken six years and extensive consultation to complete (of course, ALRI was engaged in other projects in the meantime). Where it differs from projects such as our older adults project is that it is a purely legal project; it did not involve multidiscplinary research, analysis or recommendations. But if accepted, it will make a significant contribution to Alberta civil practice.

ALRI undertook its civil rules project at the request of the Civil Rules Committee in Alberta to review and revise the Rules as they had been enacted in 1968 (although some rules went back to 1914). I can say as a member of the ALRI Board of Directors for two years that the project seemed to have “grow’d” like Topsy, but it was in fact always under control and was faithful to a commitment from the beginning to engage in widespread consultation in the legal community (attempts to consult the public were not particularly successful) and engage in comparative research. If you have a chance to look at the Report, you’ll see that there were staggering numbers of people involved in it, whether a long list of ALRI counsel, changing members of the Board, a number of committees devoted to specific aspects of the project, the list of those many people who expressed their views and a large number of consultation documents. It cost over $2.5 million.

The result is a comprehensive set of civil rules in plain English, organized systematically according to the steps in civil litigation; in other words, not merely recommendations about how the rules should look, but the actual rules drafted by an experienced drafter. Its format takes full advantage of the benefits of technology. The Civil Rules Committee has given its approval to most of the rules. (Even with all this, the Report does not contain the Court of Appeal, Surrogate Family Court or, of course, criminal rules.)

ALRI’s Civil Rules Report is a good example of why law commissions are sometimes more suitable for engaging in projects that might seem to have a logical facilitator (such as the Rules Committee itself who might have otherwise asked an academic/practitioner to undertake the project). ALRI brought law reform expertise and experience, as well as a well-developed understanding of particular kinds of research and consultation, to this project. It brought the capacity to involve many other people. And, while the project sometimes might have seemed all-consuming, ALRI brought the time required for such a major initiative. And if those whose lives became dominated by the “rules project” celebrated its end in their own way, perhaps feeling by then that the destination had become more important than the journey, it will no doubt stand as an exemplar of a particular kind of law reform activity.

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