The Difficulty of Ridding Your Case of a “Seized” Judge.

GeorgiaLeeLang100It is not unusual, especially in family law cases, to have a judge conclude a hearing with the phrase “I will seize myself of this case”. What that means is that the judge has decided that it is reasonable, necessary, or simply prudent for him or her to hear all future court applications regarding the case.

Often this is good news to the parties and their lawyers, but other times it is a fate that is not welcomed.

Madam Justice Martinson in AA v. SNA 2009 BCSC 387 explained the rationale behind a judge seizing herself of a case:

“[77] It is imperative in high conflict family cases generally, and certainly in cases involving allegations of alienation like this one, that one member of the Court take charge of the case. Having a single judge hear cases is required by s. 14 of the Supreme Court Act:

(1) All proceedings in the court and all business arising from those proceedings, if practicable and convenient, must be heard, determined and disposed of before a single judge.

(2) All proceedings subsequent to the hearing or trial including the final order, except as otherwise provided, and on a rehearing must, if practicable and convenient, be before the judge before whom the trial or hearing took place.

[78] The reasons for doing so for all cases are obvious. The judge will be familiar with the case so the litigants do not have to explain the situation over and over again. It avoids “judge shopping” to try to get a better result. It prevents inconsistent approaches. It saves legal and other costs. There will be times in dealing with some cases when it is not convenient or practical to do so.”

In cases like the latter, judges often seize themselves with the proviso that if the matter is urgent and they are not readily available, then another judge can hear the case.

But often one party, usually the party who consistently “loses”, alleges bias and seeks to rid the case of the seized judge. Recently, the British Columbia Court of Appeal in NRG v. GRG 2017 BCCA 407 weighed in on this topic saying:

“There is much wisdom in Madam Justice Martinson’s observation that a family unit may benefit from a judge seizing him or herself of a case. That does not mean, however, that the seized judge should remain seized to the last application filed. The very fact the judge is seized of the case increases the opportunity to develop an impermissible point of view about the case or the parties, and emphasizes the vital requirement of assiduous objectivity. All trial judges will know there may come a time in the conduct of a case when the judge says, “I have done my best and should pass this to fresh eyes.” In our respectful view, this may be such a time.”

The Appeal Court noted that while the appellant sought an order from the appellate panel reversing the Supreme Court judge’s “seizure” proclamation, the Court observed they lacked jurisdiction to overturn the seizure, not wishing to interfere with the lower court’s process, and also did not characterize it as an order of the court. They suggested that a litigant must appear before the seized judge or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to obtain such a direction.

Frequently, a complaint against a judge who has seized himself is accompanied by an application requesting a judge to remove himself from a case based on a reasonable apprehension of bias, another application that must go before the judge in question and is most commonly dismissed.

I remember a case many years ago where I drew what I believed to be an “unfavourable” judge and convinced opposing counsel to adjourn the case so that settlement discussions could ensue. When we advised the court we were adjourning by consent, the clever judge declared that he would be seized of the case, despite hearing no evidence at all. It was clear he figured out that the adjournment was an escape from his courtroom…and he was right!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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