Masters have been a fixture in the Toronto Court system for many years. For those who are unfamiliar, a Master is an adjudicator who is permitted to hear certain proceedings and make certain Orders. Unlike a Judge who has inherent jurisdiction, the Master takes his/her jurisdiction from statute and the Rules of Civil Procedure.
In municipalities and counties where there are no Masters a Judge hears all matters. As such, in municipalities and counties where there are Masters, the Masters typically lift a heavy burden off of the Judges in those jurisdictions. Indeed, the Toronto Masters carry a heavy workload. In Toronto, Masters motions are heard every day of the week. Typically there are anywhere from 4 – 6 Masters sitting on a given day, and their respective dockets tend to range anywhere from 5 – 20 matters.
Despite their utility and ability to specialize in adjudicating certain types of disputes, the Master has been a rare creature outside of Toronto. Toronto currently has 13 sitting Masters. Ottawa has also had a Master for some time, and according to the Masters’ administration in Ottawa, there are now 2 Masters sitting in Ottawa. Additionally, Master Brott has for some time tended to matters in Newmarket on a part time basis.
It was recently announced that Master McAfee will be sitting in Milton (at least part time).
Some people I have spoken to have questioned whether spreading the Masters out geographically (without hiring new Masters) serves to facilitate or hinder access to Justice. For every Master that is removed from Toronto, the wait to hear a Toronto Masters Motion (which is already in excess of 4 months) theoretically will grow. Additionally, depending on the practice direction taken in other jurisdictions, the addition of a Master may actually serve to increase motion wait times.
By way of example, as of today’s date the first available dates to appear in front of the Master in Newmarket is in November. However, Judges motions can be booked in relatively short order. If the Newmarket court will insist that motions that can be heard by the Master must wait until the Master is available, as opposed to proceeding before a Judge at an earlier date (something I have not had the opportunity to inquire about as of yet), then numerous motions which could otherwise be heard in short order will have to wait many months to be adjudicated.