Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Court of Appeal speaks: No to medical records. Yes to judicial discretion.

Mid afternoon the Quebec Court of Appeal released its decision regarding Imperial Tobacco's access to the medical records of class representatives they intended to call as witnesses in the Montreal tobacco trials.

If I were Justice Riordan, I would by now have pulled out the good scotch to celebrate.

While the class-action plaintiffs got what they needed from the higher court's ruling, it was on the side of Justice Riordan's ability to manage the case as he sees fit that the court came down.

The court ruled that Imperial Tobacco may have access to the records of the two representative class members (Cécilia Létourneau and Jean-Yves Blais), but not those of any other potential class members. Justice Marie-France Bich wrote the reasons, which were also supported by Justices Jacques Dufresne and Dominique Bélanger.

(On February 28th, Imperial Tobacco asked the Court to overturn Justice Riordan's September 13 decision to quash their subpoenas for medical records).

Much of her discussion about the impart of previous decisions and the ways to ensure fair treatment of class members and other parties flew over my head, beyond my grasp of law. It was clear that she and her colleagues had not been fully persuaded by the plaintiff's argument that the issue had already been decided in earlier Court of Appeal rulings.

But when, about two-thirds the way through the 33-page ruling, she turned to the need to respect "judicial discretion," the motivation of the court was made very clear. And just in case it was missed, she added a final few paragraphs. This case has gone on for years, Justice Bich wrote, and her court has heard frequent and often unnecessary appeals of interim decisions.

In these circumstances, she said, the judge who manages the file and who is presiding over the trial deserves a particular respect.

Today's Appeal Court ruling will soon be available on the CANLII or Soquij sites. Bonne lecture!

Tomorrow, the trial resumes with a day scheduled for review of the last sets of "2870" exhibits. Perhaps now a discussion on the final stage of the trial will also move ahead.