Judicial Case Conferences (JCCs) are a key part of the litigation process in family law Supreme Court proceedings in British Columbia.
What is a JCC?
A JCC is an informal meeting between you, your Ex, and your respective lawyers (if you have retained one), and a judge or master. JCCs are intended to provide a safe and informal place to review and clarify the issues in dispute with a judge or master. Sometimes this can lead to partial or complete resolution of your dispute. Even when you and your Ex have taken polarized positions and are headed to trial, a JCC is still required to get a trial date set and may help get at the real foundation of the dispute, which can save the court time and ultimately save you money.
What happens at a JCC?
A JCC is in camera (closed to the public) hearing, usually held in a courtroom or conference room at the courthouse. A JCC is scheduled for (and usually does not exceed) one and a half hours. The role of the judge or master depends on how much disclosure has been achieved. If there has been reasonable disclosure, the claimant's counsel explains the facts, the respondent's counsel responds with their narrative of events and the judge/master will ask the parties what they want him or her to do which can include making procedural orders and providing directions or helping the parties discuss and potentially agree on solutions to outstanding issues.
JCC evidence and later court proceedings
A JCC is intended to provide a forum where the parties can be completely open and honest about their positions. JCC proceedings are "off the record" unless an agreement is reduced to a formal consent order. This means that nothing said during a JCC can be used in later court proceedings. If an agreement is reached, an order can be made then and there. If no agreement is reached, the parties proceed toward trial and have fulfilled the requirement under the Rules to attempt settlement. JCCs are intended to allow family law litigants to clarify and narrow the issues in dispute, and it is because of this that JCCs are a very important part of the family court process. If there are remaining issues in dispute following the JCC, then there will most likely be a trial date set at the conclusion of the JCC. The JCC also provides the parties with an opportunity to have procedural orders made (such as deadlines for the exchange of disclosure or examination for discovery dates), which in turn keeps the litigation on track so that the trial can be heard at its scheduled time. The judge or master conducting the JCC can make procedural orders without the consent of the parties.
What can a judge or master do at a JCC?
In addition to the points outlined above, the court can do one or more of the following at a JCC:
- identify the issues in dispute and those that are not in dispute and explore ways in which the issues in dispute may be resolved without recourse to trial;
- make orders to which all the parties consent;
- mediate any of the issues in dispute;
- with the consent of the parties, refer the parties to a family dispute resolution professional, within the meaning of the Family Law Act, other than a family justice counsellor;
- refer the parties to a family justice counsellor, or to a person designated by the Attorney General to provide specialized support assistance, if the court has received written advice from the regional manager that the family justice counsellor or designated person is readily available to the parties;
- direct a party to attend the Parenting after Separation program operated by the Family Justice Services Division (Justice Services Branch), Ministry of Justice;
- make orders respecting amendment of a pleading, petition or response to petition within a fixed time;
- make orders requiring that particulars be provided in relation to any matter raised in a pleading;
- make orders respecting discovery of documents;
- make orders respecting examinations for discovery;
- direct that any or all applications must be made within a specified time;
- reserve a trial date for the family law case or reserve a date for a trial that is restricted to issues defined by the parties;
- set a date for a trial management conference under Rule 14-3;
- make any orders that may be made at a trial management conference under Rule 14-3 (9);
- without hearing witnesses, give a non-binding opinion on the probable outcome of a hearing or trial;
- without limiting any other orders respecting timing that may be made, make orders respecting timing of events;
- adjourn the judicial case conference;
- direct the parties to attend a further judicial case conference at a specified date and time; and
- make any procedural order or give any direction that the court considers will further the object of the SCFR.
Once the JCC has been completed, both parties are at liberty to bring on court applications for interim orders.
Who has to attend a JCC
JCCs are required under Rule 7-1 of the Supreme Court Family Rules ("SCFR"). Both parties must attend at the JCC in person and cannot have their lawyer appear for them like they would be able to in a normal court application. If it is not possible for a party to attend at the JCC in person (i.e. they live in another country), then the party unable to attend in person can make an application under Rule 22-6(4) of the SCFR to appear at the JCC via telephone. Unless there are special circumstances, neither party will be able to make any court applications for interim orders, such as spousal/child support or parenting arrangements, until the requirement of Rule 7-1 of the SCFR has been satisfied, and the JCC has been held. There are emergency situations that warrant a court application being heard before a JCC being held (i.e., there is a domestic violence issue, and the waitlist for a JCC is two months' long - which is not uncommon). For more examples of situations that would warrant a JCC exemption, please refer to Rule 7-1(3) of the SCFR. In such circumstances, the party seeking the order can make an application to the court to receive an exemption under Rule 7-1(4) of the SCFR to procure any necessary emergency orders.
What documents need to be exchanged before a JCC
Pursuant to Rule 7-1(10) of the SCFR, at least seven days before the date of the JCC, each party is required to file a sworn (sworn meaning the document is signed before a lawyer or notary) Form 8 Financial Statement, together with the necessary income documents referred to in Section B of Part 1 of the Form 8 Financial Statement. For more information regarding the purpose and completion of a Form 8 Financial Statement, please refer to my previous blog post entitled Form 8 Financial Statements - A step-by-step overview, as well as Virginia Richards' blog post entitled Top Tips for Form 8 Financial Statements.
For further details and information regarding JCCs, please refer to the Supreme Court of British Columbia's Litigants' Guide to Judicial Case Conferences. Or contact one of our lawyers. *Nicole Aren has 10 years experience as a family law paralegal and she is the National Firm Manager at Henderson Heinrichs LLP.