Civil Settlement Conferences
Under our Rules of Court, the parties to a lawsuit must participate in a settlement conference before they are assigned a trial date.
The reason for this process is to determine if, prior to trial, there is any chance that the parties may arrive at a settlement which satisfies them both and saves valuable trial time. We realize that the first time a matter is called in Court is often the first time that the parties have actually met since the cause of action arose.
We also recognize that sometimes a settlement agreed upon in good faith by the parties is preferable to something imposed by the Court which both parties must subsequently live with. Additionally, valuable court sitting time is reserved for those matters which cannot be settled and require a hearing.
The other reason we have these conferences is to narrow the issues for those cases which must go to trial and obtain an estimate of the numbers of witnesses, the time needed for hearing and the actual legal issues which the presiding judge may need to consider.
The presiding judge does not require that a settlement be reached. Indeed, we do recognize that it is not possible to settle every case without a full hearing.
The presiding judge under our rules is not allowed to preside at any trial where he or she has presided over the settlement conference, unless both parties agree. Based on the file, the settlement conference judge may sometimes offer the parties a frank opinion about how he or she views the case. Of course, this is not binding on anyone and the judge's opinion is based only on and limited to the written material evident in the file.
In some cases, we have articling law students who will act as facilitators and who will report back to the Court if it has been possible to arrange a settlement. If you find you cannot settle, the Court will immediately assign you a trial date when you will both be expected to bring all your witnesses and proceed to trial.