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Evaluation of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court

This is a final report on a research program focusing on the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court. The purpose of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court at meeting its basic objective of providing quick, informal, and affordable access to justice. This research was conducted by a Saint Mary’s University research team working in collaboration with the Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia. The intended audience for this report is the Nova Scotia Law Reform Commission, though we understand that others may be interested in the report and we have attempted to write for as broad an audience as possible.

Phase I of the research consisted of interviews with key stakeholders from within the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court. Between August and November, 2006, we interviewed a total of 17 individuals who work in some capacity in the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court: six experienced Nova Scotia Small Claims Court adjudicators, five clerks, and six lawyers who have represented clients in Nova Scotia Small Claims Court cases.

Phase II of the research was a survey of litigants in the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court. Approximately 2,500 surveys were mailed to individuals who had been involved in a small claims matter between 2005 and 2007. Responses were received from 254 litigants, yielding a response rate of about 10%. The report includes both quantitative and qualitative data from the survey respondents.

The data illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court. The court is performing remarkably well at achieving its legislative objectives. Enforcement of judgments emerges as a clear area of concern, both among interviewees and litigants. We make several recommendations for possible reform. We recommend careful planning and reform of data collection in the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court, with an eye toward future research.



Final Report


Nova Scotia


Small Claims Court

Date Event

The system is working quite well at meeting its legislative objective of providing rapid, informal, inexpensive access to justice. The data suggest a number of areas for future consideration and possible reform. There does seem to be one clear weakness in the current operation of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court: enforcement of judgments. We recommend that lawmakers consider 1) careful evaluation and policy change toward improving enforcement of Nova Scotia Small Claims judgments, 2) careful evaluation and revision of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court forms, 3) recording some of the more complex hearings, and 4) developing and implementing a comprehensive data collection plan regarding the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court.

Future research should evaluate the impact of recent legislative changes, particularly the shift to a $25,000 ceiling on allowable claims and the increase in allowable claims for general damages from $100 to $2,500. The Nova Scotia Supreme Court is in a state of transition and these changes must be carefully monitored. There is a distinct risk that these changes will strain the system to the point that rapid access to justice is no longer feasible. The Nova Scotia Small Claims Court now has one of the highest caps on small claims in all of North America. We urge caution, and careful empirical evaluation of the system as the full impact of these changes unfolds. 

Revision History:
This summary was last reviewed in Feb 01, 2013:custom:F, Feb 01, 2013:custom:Y.