CANADA- Small Claims Court - B.C.

Originally Posted By: rwand
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Changes To Provincial (Small Claims) Court


Effective Sept. 1, 2005, the Province will implement several changes by regulation to the Provincial (Small Claims) Court in British Columbia. These changes are summarized in this article.


Monetary Limit Increase

The monetary jurisdiction in Small Claims Court has been set at $10,000 since 1991. A regulation change in Provincial (Small Claims) Court will increase the financial limit of disputes in Small Claims Court from $10,000 to $25,000. There are no plans to increase the limit beyond $25,000 at this time. The province amended the Small Claims Act to allow the monetary limit to be set by regulation, to a maximum of $50,000, to avoid the necessity of amending the Act each time the limit is increased within that dollar range.

Changes to Notice to Mediate Procedure

The Notice to Mediate procedure, which allows one party to require other parties to attend a mediation session, will be introduced in all registries for civil suits between $10,000 and $25,000. In designated "mediation registries" (Vancouver, Surrey, North Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria) the Notice to Mediate will apply to all claims under $10,000 as well. Also, in those designated mediation registries certain cases will continue to be automatically referred to mediation. The mediation rules differ across registries because for the last seven years the government has funded a mediation program in selected registries that is intended to both train mediators and provide mediation services to parties. In those registries where the Court Mediation Program exists (currently Vancouver, Surrey, North Vancouver, Nanaimo and Victoria), free mediation services are available for parties with claims of any amount. The province has stated that it does not believe the Court Mediation Program model, which relies on mediators in training to provide free or low-cost services, is viable for the number of mediations that will result from expanding mediation across the Province and increasing the Court's jurisdiction.

Claims Against the Provincial Government

Changes to the Crown Proceeding Act will allow citizens to bring claims against the government in Small Claims Court. Previously the law required that all civil suits against the Crown to be heard in Supreme Court, which usually made it more difficult and expensive to bring action against the government than other potential litigants.

Anticipated Issues Arising from the Increased Limit

The province has acknowledged that increasing the monetary limit in Small Claims Court will result in an increased case load, and may result in more lawyers becoming involved in these cases. However, the government maintains that the Small Claims process will remain accessible to self-represented parties because of its simple procedures and plain language forms. The current information and brochures will continue to be available to assist non-lawyers and new online tools and e-forms are being developed to make it easier for self-represented litigants to provide better information to support their claims.

Costs

With respect to costs, the Small Claims Act will continue to provide that the court cannot order one party to pay lawyer's fees to another party.

Fees

There are no fee increases planned in Small Claims Court at this time.

Abandonment of Part of Claim over New Limit

Parties involved in Small Claims actions may continue the current process of abandoning the part of their claim over the new limit (i.e. the amount above $25,000) in order to have access to the low cost and simple procedure of the Small Claims Court.

Procedures for Discovery of Evidence

With the increase in the Small Claims limit, the province has acknowledged that more complex cases may appear before the Small Claims court. This may require procedures such as Examination for Discovery that are not available. The province contends that in most cases the orders that a judge can make at a settlement conference should be sufficient to deal with these cases. Settlement conferences will still be conducted by judges in an attempt to resolve cases prior to trial. Where mediation has taken place, the settlement conference is focused on preparation for trial. For example, at a settlement conference a judge can order a party to produce information or give another party copies of documents and records.

Increased Caseload, Same Number of Judges

Despite the anticipated increase in the number of Small Claims cases, the government has no current plans to increase the number of Small Claims judges.

Raymond Wand
Alton, ON