Inventory of Reforms
Ontario Small Claims Court
Overview of the Ontario Small Claims Court.
Small Claims Court
1990: Small Claims Court established as a branch of the former Ontario Court (General Division)
1993: Monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court increased to $6,000
April 1999: Superior Court of Justice created, replacing the Ontario Court (General Division)
April 2001: Monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court increased from $6,000 to $10,000
June 2006: Civil Justice Reform Project initiated
July 2006: Mandatory settlement conferences and automatic dismissal timelines implemented
November 2007: Summary of findings and recommendations of the Civil Justice Reform Project released
December 2008: Changes to the Small Claims Court announced
1 January 2010: Changes come into effect
Coulter A. Osborne, Civil Justice Reform Project: Summary of findings & recommendations [Osborne report] (Toronto, Ontario: Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, 2007). [Civil Justice Reform Project]
Courts of Justice ActExternal Link R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43.
Rules of the Small Claims CourtExternal Link O. Reg. 258/98.
Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Court Services Division: Annual report 2005/06 and 2006/07 (Government of Ontario, 2007). [2006/07 Annual Report]
Ontario Ministry of Attorney General Court Services Division: Annual report 2007-2008 (Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, 2008). [2007/08 Annual Report]
Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, News Release, Resolving Lawsuits Faster And More AffordablyExternal Link (11 December 2008).
Small Claims Court ReviewExternal Link (Ministry of Attorney General, 2009). [Review]
See also Ontario Small Claims Court Pro Bono Duty Counsel Pilot Project
Prior to 1990, jurisdiction over small claims was shifted back and forth between the inferior and superior courts in the province. Currently, the Small Claims Court, established by the Ontario Courts of Justice Act, is a distinct branch of the Superior Court of Justice.
Small Claims Court improves access to justice by allowing ordinary citizens as well as businesses to resolve legal disputes quickly and less expensively.
Description of Reforms:
The Small Claims Court is the busiest civil court in Ontario. In 2007/2008, Small Claims Court claims (63,633 new cases) comprised 43% of all civil cases commenced. However, this is a 15.5% decline from the number of cases filed in 2005/2006. (2007/08 Annual Report at 33).
The procedures of the Court are straightforward, making it hospitable to self-represented litigants. An action is governed by twenty-one rules from commencement to trial and enforcement. The quantum of costs that may be recovered by a successful party are generally limited to 15% of the value of the claim. (Civil Justice Reform Project at 15).
Monetary Jurisdiction Changes
- In September 1993, the jurisdiction of the court increased to $6,000
- On April 1, 2001, the jurisdiction of the court increased from $6,000 to its current level of $10,000.
2006 Amendments and Initiatives
In October 2003, the Small Claims Court Rules Subcommittee of the Civil Rules Committee released a consultation paper and draft rules which, among other things, considered implementation of province-wide mandatory settlement conferences and automatic dismissal timelines. The Subcommittee submited its final proposal for new Small Claims Court Rules to the Civil Rules Committee in 2005 and in 2006 significant revisions were made to the Rules of the Small Claims Court.
In 2006/07, the amended Rules of the Small Claims Court were implemented province-wide. The amendments include mandatory settlement conferences and automatic dismissal timelines. In addition to the new rules, a number of important initiatives have been implemented to increase access to justice in the Small Claims Court.
Small Claims Court forms were redesigned in a more user-friendly fill-in-the-blank style and further simplified with new instructions and warnings for litigants.
The range of self-help materials available to litigants has been expanded. Eight new user-friendly procedural guides were developed and are available at court offices or online. Automated telephone information systems were introduced in ten high volume Small Claims Court locations throughout the province. Using this new system, callers may choose from a menu of options to hear general information such as court addresses, fax numbers and hours of operation, as well as basic information about bringing or defending a claim in Small Claims Court.
2006/07 Annual Report at 36
2010 Proposed Changes
On June 28, 2006, the Civil Justice Reform Project was initiated to formulate options to reform the civil justice system in Ontario to make it more accessible and affordable. Recommendations for action contained in the November 2007 Report, included suggestions for reforming the Small Claims Court.
On December 11, 2008, the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General announced that it would adopt some of the recommendations from the Civil Justice Reform Project report effective January 1, 2010. The monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court will increase from $10,000 to $25,000. No amendments to the Rules of the Small Claims Court or the structure of the Court have been announced.
Criteria and Methods of Evaluation:
In 2006, the Ministry of the Attorney General requested that Ian Holloway, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario, conduct a review of certain issues regarding Small Claims Court. He was asked to include a consideration of key issues such as options for the structure of the Small Claims Court, different adjudicative models, options relating to small claims adjudicators, and jurisdiction of the court, including monetary jurisdiction.
The review was to take into consideration the following principles: the summary nature of the Small Claims Court as provided for in the Courts of Justice Act; a recognition that litigants before the court may be represented or self-represented; and the importance of the commitment of the Ministry to access to justice.
The Holloway report has been submitted and is now under review by the Ministry.
This summary was last reviewed in Oct 07, 2013