This article refers specifically to JDRs in the Court of Queen’s Bench.
A “JDR” is a Judicial Dispute Resolution meeting held with the parties, their lawyers, and a Justice. The JDR is typically booked for one full day and takes place in a meeting room at the Courthouse (or via videoconferencing). The Justice will assist the parties in coming to a settlement of all issues. The process is similar to mediation, except it is more condensed/brief and the Justice is typically more directive than a mediator might be.
There are two types of JDRs, binding and non-binding. The difference between a binding JDR and a non-binding JDR is that, if the parties cannot reach resolution on one or all issues, the Justice can make a final decision on the unresolved issues. In both cases, all communications which occur during the meeting are confidential to encourage the parties to be flexible and open in their negotiations.
As compared to other ADR processes available through the Court, JDRs are relatively unrestricted in the type of issues they can deal with. Matters of decision-making, parenting, child support, spousal/partner support, and property can all be dealt with in the same day at a JDR, so long as there is sufficient time to do so.
In the event that the Justice is required to make a decision on any of the issues raised, the decision cannot be appealed.
The parties are not required to pay any fees to the Court to participate in the JDR process, unlike with private mediation or arbitration.
Of course, if the parties have lawyers, they will be required to pay their fees, disbursements, etc. to prepare for and attend the JDR, pursuant to whatever retainer agreement they have entered into.
Booking a JDR
Both parties must agree to attend a JDR before it can be scheduled, and they would be wise to do so as far in advance as possible. The booking window for JDRs (binding and non-binding) is very small. Dates are released by the Courthouse approximately three times each year, and approximately four months’ worth of dates are released each time.
To secure one of these dates, one of the parties needs to submit a JDR Booking Request Form on a specified date which corresponds to the type of matter (civil litigation, family law, etc.). The form submission deadlines are often the week after the dates are released. The dates are assigned on a first come/first served basis, and family law matters and those which were waitlisted previously are given priority.
Preparation for the JDR
In advance of the JDR, each party is required to prepare materials for the Justice to review. These materials will include a letter brief giving the background in the matter and explaining what each party is seeking and why. It should also include any supporting documents each party is relying on. Commonly, this would include items like tax documents, bank and investment statements, formal appraisals and valuations, etc.
The parties and their lawyers must also sign and provide a form to the Justice indicating that they are participating in the JDR process by consent and understand the rules and risks associated with doing so. This is sometimes done the day of the JDR at the beginning of the meeting.
The Day Of
As previously indicated, both parties, their lawyers, and the Justice will all attend the JDR.
While there is no “dress code”, it is a good idea to dress in a way that shows respect for the Justice and process. Business casual is a good rule of thumb. The Justice will also be dressed in a business or business casual manner.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, JDRs were conducted in person, in a meeting room at the Courthouse. The room typically contains a large table, chairs, and white boards. Everyone sits at the same table together, including the Justice. The Justice, having read the materials, will then guide the parties through the meeting and attempt to help the parties reach settlement.
If the parties are able to reach settlement, the Justice will end the meeting and ask the parties to attend before him/her in a Courtroom to put the terms of the Order on the record in the form of a consent order.
At a non-binding JDR, if the parties are unable to resolve some or all issues, the Justice may advise the parties what the Court may decide if the matter went to trial. The meeting then ends without resolution.
At a binding JDR, however, if the parties are unable to reach agreement by the end of the day, the meeting will end and the parties will attend before the Justice in a Courtroom, where he or she will make a decision.