BC Small Claims Court Reforms
Legislative changes to BC's Small Claims Court.
Small Claims Court (Provincial Court, Civil Division)
|February 1991||New Small Claims Act came into force|
|September 2005||Monetary jurisdiction of the court increased from $10,000 to $25,000|
A branch of the Provincial Court, the Small Claims Court is established by ss.2 and 3 of the new Small Claims Act, which came into force on February 25, 1991 and replaced the previously existing Act. The Small Claims Act was amended by the Justice Modernization Statutes Amendment Act, 2004 to allow the monetary jurisdiction of the court to be set by regulation, to a maximum of $50,000.
The 1991 "new small claims court program [was] intended to respond to concerns identified in relation to the delay, cost, complexity of existing procedures, problems of enforcement of judgments and problems of rural access" (Review at 518 to 519).
The 2005 initiatives were put into place to "help modernize the province's civil justice system and improve access to justice" and to address the issue of proportionality (Small Claims Reform).
Main Aspects of 1991 Reforms
- the jurisdiction of the court was raised from $3,000 to $10,000;
- plain language forms were introduced;
- mandatory settlement conferences were introduced for disputed claims;
- enforcement procedures were streamlined (Review at 519)
Effective Sept. 1, 2005, a regulation was brought into force increasing the monetary jurisdiction of the court from $10,000 to $25,000. The monetary jurisdiction had been set at $10,000 since 1991. This increase allows people to take advantage of the low cost and simple procedure available in Small Claims Court.
Also effective Sept. 1, 2005, the Crown Proceeding Act was amended to remove the barrier to suing the government in Small Claims Court. Previously, people wanting to make claims against the government were forced to use the more costly and complex process in the Supreme Court.
Notable Highlights of the Small Claims Act
- Evidence: the Court may admit as evidence any oral or written testimony, record or other thing that the court considers is credible or trustworthy and is relevant to the matter being heard, even though the testimony, record or other thing is not admissible as evidence in any other court under the laws of evidence. (s.16)
- Claims the court may hear: the Court has jurisdiction in a claim for (a) debt or damages, (b) recovery of personal property, (c) specific performance of an agreement relating to personal property or services, or (d) relief from opposing claims to personal property. However, the Court does not have jurisdiction in a claim for libel, slander or malicious prosecution. (s.3)
Results of Evaluation of 1991 Reforms
- 41% more claims filed, with the increase in volume entirely within the $3,000 to $10,000 range
- additional claims reflected an increase in demand and not merely a transfer of business from higher courts
- no major changes in the composition of the caseload
- default judgments declined
- there was a 13% increase in the number of replies (possibly due to plain language forms)
- the mandatory pre-settlement conference achieved a large number of settlements
- the settlement conference reduced the number of trials held from 24% to 8% (Review at 519 to 520)
In 2007, Associate Chief Justice Dennis Schmidt of the B. C. Provincial Court speaking regarding the the caseload of the Small Claims Court after the 2005 initiative said that "not much happened". He stated that while "We anticipated there would be a real inflow of cases but, as it turned out, there's been no increase in volume". As an explanation, he suggests "that before 2005, people were reducing their claims to keep within the court's monetary jurisdiction and have since been filing claims that reflect more accurately the amount at stake." (Small Claims Hit the Big Time).