Friday, 19 April 2013

Appealing to the Right Place

The Québec Court of Appeal issued an important decision recently, clarifying the appropriate avenues for appeals of (some) administrative decisions: Lebel c. Kanafani, 2013 QCCA 200.

At issue here was a complaint against a real estate agent, which was rejected at first instance by the appropriate regulatory body. The applicant then sought leave to appeal to the provincial court (Cour du Québec), which refused. Undeterred, the applicant pursued an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which also refused leave. In doing so, the Court clarified appellate procedures.

Clarification was important because there are several bodies which have varying jurisdiction in professional discipline appeals in Québec: the Tribunal des professions, which oversees 46 different regulatory bodies; the provincial court, which has many appellate functions in administrative matters; and the superior court, which has a judicial review jurisdiction. Sitting above these is the Court.

The Court had to unpick a tangle of procedural provisions in the Code de procédure civile, the most important of which provides as follows:
26. Peuvent faire l'objet d'un appel [à la Cour d'Appel], à moins d'une disposition contraire:
2. les jugements finals de la Cour du Québec dans les causes où cette cour exerce une compétence qui lui est attribuée exclusivement par une autre loi que le présent code;

26. Unless otherwise provided, an appeal lies [to the Court of Appeal]
(2) from any final judgment of the Court of Québec in a case where such court has exclusive jurisdiction under any Act other than this Code;
Section 31 of the Cpc also recognizes the inherent jurisdiction of the superior court, which has the authority to hear any matter not specifically assigned to another body.

The basic question was this: having appealed unsuccessfully to the provincial court, was the appellant entitled to bring a further appeal to the Court, or should he have sought judicial review in the superior court? (see para. 27.)

One might have thought, on a plain reading of s. 26(2), that there was clearly an appeal as of right to the Court. Not so!
[34]        Après réflexion, la Cour partage l'interprétation proposée par le procureur général de l'art. 26, al. 1(2) C.p.c. Cette disposition, lue en conjonction avec l'art. 31 C.p.c., fait ressortir qu'elle ne s'applique qu'aux seules décisions rendues par la Cour du Québec en tant que tribunal de première instance et non en appel d'un tribunal administratif, où il exerce alors uniquement une fonction de contrôle judiciaire. (emphasis added.)
In the Court's view, this provided "cohérence interne" between ss. 26(2) and 31 by allowing for an appeal as of right in cases where the provincial court was the tribunal of first instance (subject to legislation providing for a leave requirement). It also provided "cohérence externe" for appeals of professional disciplinary proceedings, the legality of which would be assessed by an internal appeal or an appeal to the provincial court, subject to judicial review:
[40]        En somme, en matière de conduite, l'appel d'un comité chargé de la discipline se fait soit devant le Tribunal des professions soit devant la Cour du Québec, puis les seuls recours encore possibles sont une révision judiciaire devant le tribunal de droit commun, la Cour supérieure, puis, sur permission, un appel à cette Cour.
To permit appeals to the provincial court to be appealed as of right to the Court would have caused some asymmetry, in the following way. Appeals to the Tribunal des professions would be subject only to judicial review in the superior court, whereas appeals to the provincial court would be appealable to the Court. Given that the functions in professional discipline matters of the Tribunal des professions and the provincial court are similar, such asymmetry was to be avoided: why treat similar appeals differently and allow some questions to jump straight to the Court? Thus, the Court's approach solves the asymmetry problem.

The Court did have to acknowledge, however, that appeals as of right to the Court have been provided for in the area of financial regulation. The difference there, however, is that legislative intent is clear; in the present case, the appellant seemed to be taking advantage of a lack of clarity in the Cpc.

There is one other interesting point. The Court remarked that it has focused in recent years on the standard of review applied to tribunal decisions, whether on appeal or judicial review, perhaps to the detriment of attending to the maze of provisions provided for in the Cpc:
[16]        C'est la première fois que le procureur général se prévaut de son droit d'intervenir pour faire valoir l’inexistence du droit d’appel (art. 99 C.p.c.). La Cour bénéficie ainsi d'un éclairage sur la question de sa compétence dont elle n'a jamais eu l'avantage. Il appert aussi que ces dernières années, les arguments ont porté principalement sur les normes de contrôle et pas ou peu sur l'existence d'un droit d'appel devant la Cour, si ce n'est par l'expression d'un certain scepticisme. (emphasis added.)
This reminds us that there are two aspects to protecting the integrity of the administrative process. One is to apply deferential standards of review, whether on appeal or judicial review. The other is to employ gate-keeping rules to block or limit appeals in the first place (the approach taken, incidentally, by the UK Supreme Court in Cart v. Upper Tribunal, 2011 UKSC 28). Focusing on standards of review is important, but the gate-keeping rules should not be neglected, as this case demonstrates: even if the Court had granted leave and applied a very deferential standard, the appellant would still have 'jumped' over the superior court. One can appreciate why the Court was keen to ensure that the appellant could not gain such an advantage.

H/T: Blogue du CRL.


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