According to Statistics Canada data from the annual Civil Court Survey over the most recent five years for which data are available, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, the number of civil cases has fallen. The total number of cases initiated between 2010-11 and 2014-15 declined by 4.7% from 493,785 to 470,622. The total number of active cases declined by 1.5% from 921,328 to 907,206 and the number of active cases with a disposition within the fiscal year declined by 2.8%from 553,597 to 537.909.
The number of general civil cases has declined by 10.0% over the five-year period. Cases involving bankruptcy declined by 31.2%, cases involving collections were down by 14.0% and the number of cases involving contracts declined by 9.5% over the period. Other civil cases also declined by 4.5%. Some types of cases increased; motor vehicle (involving personal injury or property damage) increased by 19.6%, other torts by 2.5%, probate by 14.8% and cases involving all other unclassified types of civil actions increased by 6.7%.
The number of trial ready cases increased slightly by 2.0%.5%, the number postponed or for which a new trial date was set increased by 0.52% and the number of cases withdrawn or abandoned increased by 10.6%. On the other hand, the numbers of other types of dispositions declined. Cases settled by the parties declined by 3.5%, cases dismissed or discontinued declined by 6.6% and the number of judgements declined by 2.2%.
There is also a pattern of more cases taking longer. The number of general civil cases completed in 24 months or longer increased by 49.4% and the number taking 12 to 24 months to resolve increased by 10.6%. Conversely, the number of cases disposed in 3 months or less declined by 2.2% and, similarly, the number with elapsed time of 6 to 12 months to disposition decreased by 0.9%. The number of cases with elapsed times to disposition of 3 to 6 months increased by 1.0%.
The number of cases that have been inactive for 3 to 4 years has increased by 12.6% and the number that has been inactive for more than 4 years has increased by 7.1%. Overall, the number of cases that have been inactive for less than three years has declined.
The number of active family law cases declined by 2.5% from 2010-11 to 2014-15. The number of family cases that had been active for 4 years or more increased by 23.2%, the number active for 3 to 4 years increased by 10.8% and the number of cases active for 2 to 3 years increased by 3.3%. On the other hand, the number of active family law cases active for 1 year of less declined by 7.5% and the number active for 1 to 2 years declined by 7.9%.
These data provide a valuable overview of patterns of trend and change in Canada’s civil courts. However, a broad picture in numbers leaves much to be explained. The devil is alleged to be in the details. The civil courts are an important public good and warrant careful empirical research to examine in greater detail what we see in the numbers.
— Ab Currie, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow
Canadian Forum on Civil Justice