A 3-day trial likely to cost you $60,000
But that won't cover an expert witness, or
opponent's legal costs if you lose
2007 04:30 AM
LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER
Seeking justice in Canada is
expensive. Soon, it may not be worth taking a case
to court unless more than $100,000 is at stake, says
Ron Slaght, a Toronto civil litigation lawyer.
A three-day civil trial is likely to
cost at least $60,738 – more than the median family
income in Canada of $58,100. The estimate is
conservative because trials often take longer than
"I would say the average custody
case now goes on for five days. Many go on for
eight," says Susan McGrath, a former president of
the Canadian Bar Association and a family law lawyer
in Iroquois Falls, Ont.
In a family law case, the bill could
easily be $150,000, McGrath says.
Experienced civil and family law
lawyers charge anywhere from about $250 an hour to
as much as $800 an hour in Toronto.
The Star chose $300 an hour
and determined the typical trial cost using a model
developed by the Civil Justice Review, a committee
that studied Ontario's civil justice system during
But the cost of hiring a lawyer is
only one expense.
If you lose, you may be ordered to
pay some or all of your opponent's legal costs.
An appeal can cost tens of
thousands, as can expert witnesses, who have become
a fixture in courtrooms, even in Small Claims Court.
For example, an agricultural
scientist charged $375 to testify as an expert at a
Small Claims Court trial in Stratford, Ont., while
an accounting expert who testified at a complex
civil trial involving a North York investment firm
and a chartered bank submitted a $64,300 bill.
Photocopying, postage and courier
expenses, court filing fees, long distance phone
calls and transcripts add up, with some court
reporting companies charging as much as $4.90 per
page. A transcript for one day's testimony could
cost nearly $1,000.
During the past decade, many
provinces, including Ontario, have tried to reduce
costs by simplifying the court process – eliminating
steps such as "examinations for discovery," the
pre-trial hearings where each side has a chance to
cross-examine their opponents.
But simplified procedures are
usually only followed for claims between $10,000 and
$50,000. Of the 59,035 civil actions started in
Ontario in 2006, only 25 per cent proceeded this
Routine criminal trials are
sometimes cheaper. Criminal lawyers often charge
flat rates or block fees. A block fee for a one-day
trial in provincial court in Toronto could be
anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000. A year-long murder
trial could run to hundreds of thousands of dollars.