November 24, 2020

Don't Cut Corners

October 2 , 2020

Consent Orders

August 4 , 2020

Electronic Hearings

July 21, 2020

Ceasing to Act

June 29, 2020

Writing Skills

June 29, 2020

Keeping Up With the Law

June 22, 2020

Assets as a Test for Security for Costs

June 19, 2020

What is This Case About?

June 11, 2020

Cross-Examining Child Witnesses

May 20 , 2020

Formal Offers

May 13 , 2020

Vexatious or Self-Represented Litigants

January 7, 2020

G.S.T. and Costs

December 20 , 2019

Electronically Navigating the

October 7 , 2019

Questioning is a Bad Word

July 29 , 2019

Dismissal for Delay

May 7 , 2019

Rule 4.31 Fallacies

March 18 , 2019

More Dangers in Oral Fee Agreements

February 11 , 2019

Weir-Jones Decisions

January 9 , 2019

Discouraging Settlements

November 30, 2018

European Court Helps You Twice?

November 23 , 2018

Courts Overruling Tribunals

November 16 , 2018

New Evidence on Appeal

October 30 , 2018

Schedule C's Role

July 17 , 2018

Loopholes in Enforcing Settlements

May 7 , 2018

Enforcement of Procedure Rules

April 16, 2018

Limping Lawsuits are Often

April 3 , 2018

Court of Appeal Tips for
Summary Decisions

March 19, 2018

Serious Dangers in Chambers

February 13 , 2018

Court Backlog

December 18 , 2017

Lowering the Status of Courts

September 15 , 2017

Access to Court Decisions

July 4 , 2017

Strictissimi Juris

June 14 , 2017

Why Don't Your Clients Settle?

June 5 , 2017

Gap in Rules About Parties

June 5, 2017

Personal Costs Against

April 26, 2017

Clogged Courts

April 11, 2017

Dismissal for Want of

January 6, 2017

Incomplete Disclosure

December 15, 2016


November 23, 2016

Is Contract Interpretation Law?



Côté’s Commentaries

© J.E. Côté 2016-2020


Even able and experienced lawyers make mistakes. Some mistakes are quite common. Why? Simple clerical errors or forgetfulness are not the full answer. A recent Court of Appeal decision may reveal other causes.

A judge retroactively extended protection of claims against persons other than the insolvent company being protected under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.

The written application (notice of motion) did not mention such protection. The application was simply to approve a sale of mortgaged assets. Ideas for further relief evolved during oral discussion in front of the judge, including preserving claims against other entities. That was a new topic for all concerned. The lawyer for the lawyers about to suffer extended liability expressly opposed the idea, but had had very little time to think about it, and no time at all to do any research or consult with anyone. On the spot he could not come up with any real grounds to oppose. After little discussion, the court preserved claims against his clients, irrespective of any time limits.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal set that order aside. One of the most fundamental rules of procedure is a principle of natural justice. No one can lose rights without clear advance notice of the case to be made against him or her, and proper opportunity to prepare evidence and arguments to oppose it.

In retrospect, the point seems obvious. It is unanswerable. What went wrong? Maybe three things.

  1. Much legal work today is specialized. Specialists get used to doing the usual thing, the usual wording of orders, and special procedures become usual. Most courts are not specialized. They do everything. So judges become familiar with general principles and rules, especially those which recur in different fields, such as criminal law, administrative law, and family law. A lawyer very experienced in transportation law, public utilities, or expropriation, may have less day-to-day familiarity with such general rules and principles. The lawyer knows they exist, but they do not spring to mind on the spur of the moment.

  2. Urgency, real or imagined, brings dangers. Doing something within 2 or 3 days is often necessary. But doing something within 10 or 20 minutes is risky. Later you may slap your forehead and wonder how you could have overlooked something basic. Skipping ordinary procedures, such as serving a detailed written notice and adhering to what it says, is doubly dangerous. “Time does not permit,” you may reply. But here the company being monitored under the Act had been found hopeless and was going to be liquidated, not saved. This motion turned into a 3-cornered dispute involving others. The order saved no time. For want of a few more hours (maybe overnight), 17 months were lost, doubtless with prejudice, expense, and inconvenience.

  3. Being cooperative and friendly? Usually that has merit. But only up to a point. When something new comes up, it is surprising how rarely counsel point out that it is new, so they have had no chance to think about it, let alone consult anyone, and cannot be sure what to say. They do not ask for more time. Asking for three more weeks might be unreasonable, but asking for a few hours, or overnight, is often vital. Even getting a brief new affidavit from the client might take 24 hours.

Counsel who rushes everyone along and quickly gets a favorable order, without proper notice to all, builds a castle on foundations of sand. After it rains, that counsel holds nothing but a big bill to pay.

See Wiebe v. Weinrich Constr. 2020 ABCA 396, Edm 1903 0139 AC (Nov 9)..

– Hon. J.E. Côté


The Commentaries are intended to call the attention of lawyers to promising or threatening developments in the law, in civil procedure, in developing their skills, or simply to describe something curious, funny or intriguing.

Justice Côté recently retired from the Court of Appeal of Alberta and currently acts as an arbitrator, mediator, or referee under Rules 6.44 and 6.45 of the Alberta Rules of Court.

He may be contacted through Juriliber at email: or phone 780-424-5345.