POLITICS

Federal Court to test expedited hearings for some visa-rejection reviews

05/13/2013 03:05 EDT | Updated 07/13/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Some rejected visa applicants may soon have much quicker access to a judge's ruling under a fast-track project launched by Federal Court.

The aim is to see whether applicants for a judicial review can get their cases decided in a fraction of the time it now takes.

The initial target group are those denied visas related to family sponsorships, work, study or visiting with cases before the court in Toronto.

"There's been a real uptick in immigration files before the court," said Federal Court spokeswoman Roula Etrides. "There's a backlog of hearings."

Unlike refugee applicants or those already in Canada who may see benefit in drawing out judicial proceedings, the target group would likely prefer quick decisions, Etrides said.

An analysis of the backlog revealed some cases don't require reams of evidence and tend to be more straightforward legally. Those factors should allow for shorter hearings and quicker decisions.

"It would free up the court time, it would help with access to justice, and give these people a quicker hearing date," Etrides said.

Michael Niren, an immigration lawyer in Toronto, called the test a "great idea" because even a successful appeal using the regular process may prove useless to an applicant given the time it takes.

"These cases need attention," Niren said Monday. "This is a real fair initiative for applicants who are exercising their appeal rights."

The plan is to have a case come before a judge within a maximum 60 days — currently the wait is about 200 days — and have a hearing that lasts a total of 45 minutes instead of taking several hours.

Lawyers or other advocates for applicants will get just 20 minutes to make their case. The respondent gets 20 minutes, and the applicant's reply gets another five minutes.

The judge's decision would be delivered as quickly as possible — possibly almost immediately.

"The court intends to make greater use of written endorsements and oral decisions than under existing practice," Federal Court Chief Justice Paul Crampton said in announcing the pilot.

"The application judge retains full discretion to determine the manner in which the decision is rendered."

Participation in the modest pilot, which is voluntary, does come with strings attached. One string is that the court and government must both agree the approach is preferable to the regular process.

The applicant can apply for fast-tracking, but the judge deciding on whether to allow the applicant to appeal a decision can also recommend the approach.

The test project will only deal with cases scheduled to be heard in Toronto — the court's busiest location — but, if successful, could expand to other major centres or seek to include different kinds of cases.

The first cases under the streamlined system are expected to be heard in October.