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Small Claims Court Inventory

Year Title Jurisdiction Body Responsible Court Criteria and Methods of Evaluation Description Description of Reforms Development Links to Publications Publications Purpose Related Reforms Results Status Subjects Timeline
1971 Provincial Court of Alberta, Civil (Small Claims Court)

Alberta

Small claims court with a monetary jurisdiction of $25 000, employing pre-trial settlement conferences and mandatory mediation.

The Provincial Court of Alberta is a statutorily enacted Court intended to be an expeditious and inexpensive forum to access civil justice. Although the Court must apply established legal principles, it is not bound by the laws of evidence applicable to judicial proceedings and may admit any oral or written evidence that it, in its discretion, considers proper, whether admissible in other judicial proceedings or not, subject to claims of privilege under the law of evidence or any other evidence which is inadmissible by any other act. Accordingly, the procedural issues put before it are often determined according to principles of fairness or equity and not necessarily according to the strict rules of evidence as used in other courts. Litigants may be unrepresented, represented by agents, or by lawyers.

There are no formal Rules of Court governing the Court's procedure. The Act sets out most of the procedural requirements. Where the Act on regulations do not provide for specific practice or procedure, the Court may apply or modify the Alberta Rules of Court (Queen's Bench Rules) as needed. ...]

Hunt McDonald at 1.
  • Cases in the Court are heard by provincially appointed judges.
  • The monetary jurisdiction is $25 000.
  • Pre-trial conferences may be used to encourage parties to settle, or identify key issues if settlement is not achieved.
  • Cases may be referred to mandatory mediation sessions.

Permanent implementation

  • mandatory programs
  • mediation
  • Provincial Court of Alberta, Civil
  • settlement conferences
  • small claims court
1971 Modern Provincial Court established
2002 Most recent increase of monetary jurisdiction, to $25 000
1979 Newfoundland and Labrador Small Claims Court

Newfoundland and Labrador

Small Claims Court, division of the Provincial Court

Overview of the Small Claims Court, the civil division of the Provincial Court.

The Court hears civil actions where the monetary value claimed does not exceed $5,000, the lowest limit in Canada. Prior to 2005, the monetary jurisdiction of the Court was $3,000.

The Court has jurisdiction over actions concerning debt, whether payable in money or otherwise, claims for damages, including damages for breach of contract and actions for unpaid municipal taxes. The Court has no jurisdiction over actions where

  • land title is brought into question;
  • validity of a devise, bequest, or limitation is disputed;
  • malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, defamation, criminal conversation, breach of promise of marriage;
  • action against a judge of a court, a justice or a public officer for anything done by such a person in the course of performing the duties of his or her office.
Actions are commenced in Small Claims Court by filing a Statement of Claim and paying the appropriate fee. A successful plaintiff will usually receive back the fee as part of the Court Costs as part of a judgment. In a Civil action, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (claimant) to prove his or her case on a balance of probabilities. This is to be contrasted with a criminal case where the burden of proof is on the Crown to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Before the case is set for trial, our Rules require that the plaintiff and defendant attend a Settlement Conference to see if there is any hope of settling the case without the need for a trial. Even if the parties do not agree to a settlement, the conference is useful as it allows the parties to isolate the issues in question and potentially shorten the length of the trial.

The forms and procedures are designed to assist self represented litigants present their cases on their own. The cost of legal representation often exceeds the amount of a claim if a case goes to trial. Judges are cognizant of the fact that many self represented litigants are not familiar with legal rules and procedures and will make allowance within the limits of the law for these limitations. However neither the judge nor the court staff can offer legal advice to litigants.

At the conclusion of the case, the judge may deliver a decision from the Bench. Such decisions are called "oral" decisions. Alternatively, the judge may "reserve" the decision and file a written ruling at a later time. In such a case the judge usually sees the need to research a point of law. When the decision is filed the Court Clerk will notify the parties and each party will be given a copy of the decision.

A party who is dissatisfied with the result has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (Trial Division) and Subsequently to the Court of Appeal and then if necessary with leave, to the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

The Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador acts in the capacity of the Small Claims Court, established by the Small Claims Act.

Permanent implementation

  • Newfoundland and Labrador Small Claims Court
2005 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $3,000 to $5,000
1980 Nova Scotia Small Claims Court

Nova Scotia

Small Claims Court

Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia conducted an evaluation of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court to determine its effectiveness "at meeting its basic objective of providing quick, informal, and affordable access to justice" and "to illuminate any emergent areas of concern for possible legislative reform" (Evaluation Report at 27).

Overview of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court.

There are 11 individual Small Claims Courts serving Nova Scotia. A number of courts serve two counties. Adjudicators, who are appointed, must be members in good standing of the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society. In almost all cases, hearings are held on weekday evenings, with special allowances for daytime hearings upon request... Adjudicators have a good deal of latitude in how they run the proceedings. Thus, there is a tendency toward relaxed procedural and evidentiary rules.

Evaluation Report at 23, 26
 

 

 

The Nova Scotia Small Claims Court has never required mediation. There was at some point in time a Small Claims Mediation Pilot Project, available on a voluntary basis, which was run by an organization called ADR Atlantic, but the project is now defunct.

The original cap on claims in the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court was set at $2,000, then it was increased to $3,000 in 1986, to $5,000 in 1992, to $10,000 in 1999, to $15,000 effective April 1, 2004, and most recently to $25,000 as of April 1, 2006...

There are no provisions for pretrial discovery or disclosure of documents.

Evaluation Report at 21, 25

The Nova Scotia Small Claims Court was established in 1980 by the Small Claims Court Act.

The original idea of the court was to aid self-represented litigants. "The objective was and is to create a court that would satisfy the following criteria: (1) accessibility; (2) low costs; (3) informality; (4) simplicity; (5) quick and efficient disposal of cases; and (6) fairness."

Evaluation Report at 21

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.

Evaluation Report at 102-103

Permanent implementation

  • Nova Scotia Small Claims Court
1980 Small Claims Court established
1986 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased to $3,000
1992 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased to $5,000
1999 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased to $10,000
2004 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased to $15,000
2005 Evaluation of the Small Claims Court initiated
2006 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased to $25,000
March 2009 Evaluation Report released
1988 Manitoba Small Claims Court

Manitoba

Court of Queen's Bench

Overview of the Manitoba Small Claims Court.

1983 Review of the Small Claims Court
In March, 1983, the Manitoba Law Reform Commission conducted a review of the adjudication of small claims in the Province. A number of recommendations were made, including recommendations relating to

  • creation of a separate division for adjudication of small claims
  • expertise and powers of the adjudicators
  • monetary limit increase
  • restriction of the jurisdiction of the Court
  • establishment of a mediation programme
  • relaxation of application of the rules of evidence
  • review of the forms and information available to the public
  • increasing the public awareness of the Court

(First Review at 50-54).

In the fifteen years following the release of the First Review, several of the Commission's recommendations were implemented: "the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court was increased from $1,000 to $3,000, and later to $5,000; its jurisdiction was restricted by excluding certain types of actions; the rules of evidence were expressly relaxed; and costs awards were strictly limited" (Second Review at 1).
 
1998 Review of the Small Claims Court
In March 1998, the Manitoba Law Reform Commission released the results of its review of the Small Claims Court, making 15 recommendations, including recommendations related to:

  • expertise and powers of the hearing officers
  • monetary limit increase
  • implementation of a mediation programme
  • expert reports

(Second Review at 51-52).

No major revisions to the Rules or the Act, apart form the increase in the monitory limits, have taken place since the release of the Second Review.

Monetary Jurisdiction Increases

  • On September 1, 1989, the monetary jurisdiction was raised from $3,000 to $5,000
  • On January 1, 1992, the provision for general damages in an amount not exceeding $1,000 was introduced
  • On July 14, 1999, the monetary jurisdiction was raised from $5,000 to $7,500, and general damages limit was raised from $1,000 to $1,500
  • On February 12, 2007, the monetary jurisdiction was raised from $7,500 to $10,000, and general damages limit was raised from $1,500 to $2,000

A province-wide small claim system was put in place in Manitoba in 1972 through Part II of The County Courts Act. The monetary jurisdiction at the time was set at $1,000.

Currently, the Small Claims Court is a division of Court of Queen's Bench governed by The Court of Queen's Bench Small Claims Practices Act.

To provide for the determination of claims in a simple manner as expeditious, informal and inexpensive as possible commensurate with the matters at issue in each claim.

Permanent Implementation

  • Manitoba Small Claims Court
September 1989 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $3,000 to $5,000
March 1983 Results of the First Review of the Small Claims Court released
January 1989 Provision for general damages in an amount not exceeding $1,000 added
March 1998 Results of the Second Review of the Small Claims Court released
July 1999 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $5,000 to $7,500
July 1999 General damages limit increased from $1,000 to $1,500
February 2007 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $7,5000 to $10,000
February 2007 General damages limit increased from $1,500 to $2,000
1990 Ontario Small Claims Court

Ontario

Small Claims Court

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.

Review

Overview of the Ontario Small Claims Court.

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.

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.

The Holloway report has been submitted and is now under review by the Ministry.

Permanent Implementation

  • Ontario 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
1991 BC Small Claims Court Reforms

British Columbia

Attorney General

Small Claims Court (Provincial Court, Civil Division)

Legislative changes to BC's Small Claims Court.

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)

2005 Initiatives
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.

Small Claims Reform

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)

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).

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)

2005 Initiative
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).
 

Permanent Implementation

  • British Columbia Small Claims Court
  • legislation
  • reform
February 1991 New Small Claims Act came into force
September 2005 Monetary jurisdiction of the court increased from $10,000 to $25,000
1993 BC Small Claims Court Settlement Conference (Rule 7)

British Columbia

Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court Rule of Court introducing mandatory settlement/trial conferences.

Settlement conferences are mandatory in all non-pilot project registries, for all cases except motor vehicle accident cases in which only liability for property damage is disputed (Rule 7(2))...

Typically, a settlement/trial conference is scheduled for half an hour before a judge in a conference room at the courthouse. The judge at the settlement/trial conference will not be the judge at trial, if a trial is necessary.

At the settlement/trial conference, the parties will sit at a table with a judge. The judge will say a few words and ask each party to give a brief summary of their case. The judge may then lead both the claimant and defendant into a discussion on what, if anything, the parties can agree on. If the parties agree on the final result, the judge will make the order. However, the parties may agree on some issues and leave issues in dispute to be resolved at trial. The judge will assess how much time is required for trial (Small Claims at 28-29).

  • All parties, with or without legal representation, must attend the settlement conference (r. 7(4)).
  • Each party must bring all relevant documents and reports to a settlement conference (r. 7(5)), whether the party intends to use them at trial or not.
  • The judge has wide powers to: mediate any disputed issues; decide on any issues that do not require evidence; make a payment order or other appropriate order in the terms agreed to by the parties; set a trial date, if necessary; discuss evidence requirements and trial procedures if a trial is necessary; order production of documents; dismiss a claim, counterclaim, reply, or third party notice if it is determined to be without reasonable grounds, or it discloses no triable issue, or it is frivolous or an abuse of the court's process (r. 7(14)).

The purpose of a Settlement Conference is to encourage the litigants to settle the lawsuit and avoid the time and cost of a trial.

Permanent implementation

  • British Columbia Small Claims Court
  • case conferences
  • mandatory programs
  • reform
  • rules of court
  • settlement conferences
1993 Rule 7 came into effect
1995 Yukon Small Claims Court

Yukon

Small Claims Court

At the beginning of 2008, the Yukon government began the consultation process on amending regulations to the Small Claims Court Act in order to modernize the small claims court process.

Overview of the Yukon Small Claims Court.

The Small Claims Court hears civil cases in which the amount of money or the value of personal property being claimed is $25,000 or less. It does not have jurisdiction over actions concerning land, actions against a personal representative of a deceased person, or actions for libel or slander...

The Small Claims Court sits in the same locations as the Territorial Court and can hear cases as part of court circuits to the communities. Every judge of the Territorial Court is a judge of the Small Claims Court.

Website

Highlights:

  • Any matter set for trial must go to a pre-trial conference
  • Since 1995, parties to small claims matters have been encouraged to take part in mediation of their disputes. The process has evolved over the years so that mediation can actually take place as part of the pre-trial conference rather than having to adjourn the process to a later date in order for mediation to occur.
  • Discovery is not permitted, unless the court deems it necessary in the interests of justice

 

 

2006 Amendments

The Small Claims Court Act was amended effective April 1, 2006:

  • the monetary jurisdiction was raised from $5,000 to $25,000
  • the appeals process was updated
  • a process was set in place to move matters to Supreme Court if the amount was likely to go higher than the new limit

The Small Claims Court of the Yukon is established by the Small Claims Court Act.

It is proposed that the amended regulations will be finalized in the Fall of 2009.

Permanent implementation

  • Yukon Small Claims Court
April 1, 2006 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $5,000 to $25,000
2008 Consultation on the proposed amendments to regulations of theSmall Claims Act began
1997 Saskatchewan Small Claims Court

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Provincial Court (Civil Division) - Small Claims Court

Overview of the Saskatchewan Small Claims Court.

1997 Initiatives
The previously existing legislation governing small claims was replaced by the Small Claims Act which was written "to ensure the language is clear and understandable, enhancing its usefulness for people without a legal background". The changes introduced included:

  • expanding the types of disputes the Small Claims Court could hear;
  • expanding the type of orders Small Claims Court could make (at the time, the Court was limited to ordering the payment of money or the return of property);
  • giving the Small Claims Court the ability to transfer a case to a different and more appropriate court location at the request of a party;
  • authorizing the Court of Queen's Bench to transfer matters to Small Claims Court with the parties' consent;
  • eliminating the requirement for a party to prove their claim if the other party does not appear for trial;
  • allowing judges to be more detailed in specifying how orders should be complied with (i.e. ordering an instalment schedule for a payment order); and
  • enabling the claim limit ($5,000 at the time) to be replaced by a higher limit either province-wide or in certain parts of the province (1997 News Release).

2006 Initiatives
A review of the small claims court system in the province was conducted in 2003-2004. The review examined "three areas: how the small claims court system works; a comparative analysis of small claims court systems in other Canadian jurisdictions, and recommendations for changes to better ensure that the small claims court system is accessible, effective and affordable" (2003-2004 Annual Report at 33).

Based on the recommendations arising out of the review process, several changes were implemented:

  • effective January 1, 2006, monetary limit was increased from $5,000 to $10,000
  • Provincial Court Act was amended to establish a Civil Division of Provincial Court to reflect the specialized nature of small claims adjudication
  • Small Claims Act was amended to require parties involved in the dispute attend a case management session prior to proceeding to trial. This process had been previously piloted in two locations in the province with success. A case management judge assists the parties in settling the matter prior to trial. If no resolution is achieved, the judge may give any necessary directions to the parties to ensure the trial proceeds quickly and efficiently (2005 News Release).

Further Increases to Monetary Jurisdiction of the Court

  • On January 1, 2007, the monetary limit was increased from $10,000 to $15,000.
  • On November 1, 2007, the monetary limit was increased from $15,000 to $20,000.

Small Claims Court is within the Civil Division of the Saskatchewan Provincial Court established by s.2 of the Small Claims Act.

Ensuring efficient and effective resolution of civil disputes in Saskatchewan.

Permanent Implementation

  • Saskatchewan Small Claims Court
1997 New Small Claims Act came into force
2003 Review of the Small Claims Court System initiated
January 2006 Provincial Court (Civil Division) established
January 2006 Case management conferences introduced province-wide
January 2006 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $5,000 to $10,000
January 2007 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $10,000 to $15,000
November 2007 Monetary jurisdiction of the Court increased from $15,000 to $20,000

 

1998 BC Small Claims Court Mediation Program (Rule 7.2)

British Columbia

BC Dispute Resolution Practicum Society

Small Claims Court

Small Claims Court rule of court establishing a mediation program.

CMP operates in five Small Claims registries: Nanaimo, Surrey, North Vancouver, Victoria and Robson Square, Vancouver (but only in respect of a disputed claim for which the notice of claim that started the proceeding was filed at Robson Square before November 26, 2007).
 

Referrals

Under the Practice Direction that preceded the Rule, referrals to the CMP came from four sources:

  • voluntary election by the parties;
  • referral by a judge at a settlement conference;
  • mandatory referral of all construction cases; and
  • mandatory referral by date of reply.

Referrals to mediation differ by each registry but there is an overall referral rate of 25% of the total caseload from the CMP registries.
 

Outcomes

Preliminary numbers from a UBC study show that settlement rates for the four registries for mandatory mediations are 56%. For voluntary mediations settlement rates are 67%. Average satisfaction with the conduct of the mediation is 4.32 on a 5 point scale; 91% of participants indicate that they would use mediation again.
 

Small Claims Rule 7.2

On April 28, 2003, a new Small Claims Rule replaced the practice direction, bringing greater clarity to the mediation process. It will also help integrate mediation with the work of the Court and the Registry.

The new rule reflects many aspects of the practice direction which has been in place since the inception of the Program. However, there are some significant additions to the rule. These include provisions setting out the consequences of not attending a mediation, as well as enforcement and confidentiality provisions...

[T]he mediation rule applies to the following disputed claims:

  • Claims that fall within a class of cases described in Schedule D - Schedule D currently includes construction cases and a specified number of cases from each registry by date of reply.
  • Claims referred to mediation from a settlement conference, with the consent of the parties.
  • Claims for which a Notice to Mediate has been filed with the registry.

Schedule E describes classes of cases to which the rule does not apply and includes claims arising from a motor vehicle accident.

When a case is referred to mediation, the mediation coordinator will send a Notice of Mediation Session to each of the parties. Parties may apply to a judge for an exemption from the requirement to attend the mediation. The consequences of not attending a mediation session are similar to those for not attending a settlement conference.

When parties reach full or partial agreement, they must file an agreement form. The agreements are drafted by the mediators and signed by the parties at the mediation. If the parties do not reach agreement on all issues, the registry sets a date for settlement conference. The Rule includes enforcement mechanisms.

Website

The Court Mediation Program (CMP) was established in 1998. The process was initially governed by a Practice Directive, which was replaced on April 28, 2003 by the new Small Claims Rule 7.2, Mediation for Claims up to $10,000. The program is funded by Ministry of Attorney General and administered by BC Dispute Resolution Practicum Society.

The objective of CMP is "to enlarge the pool of qualified mediators in B.C.; to enhance access to justice; and to relieve backlog pressure on the court. Up until now, the CMP has been operating in 3 registries, Surrey, Robson Square and Nanaimo, on the authority of practice directions issued by the Office of the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court" (Website).

Permanent Implementation

  • British Columbia Small Claims Court
  • mediation
  • rules of court
1998 CMP established
April 2003 Practice Directive replaced by Rule 7.2
1999 New Brunswick Small Claims Court

New Brunswick

Small Claims Court

Overview of the New Brunswick Small Claims Court.

The Small Claims Court of New Brunswick was established on January 1st, 1999. This court hears civil suits for debt or damages, return of personal property or a combination of those claims, where the value involved does not exceed $6,000.

On March 14, 2009, it was announced that the Small Claims Court will be eliminated as part of budget cuts included in the 2009-2010 New Brunswick Budget.

An act to repeal the Small Claims Act received royal assent on June 19, 2009. A new rule of court is being drafted to provide for filing and hearing small claims in the Court of Queen's Bench. Once this new rule of court is finalized, the new act will come into effect.

The province also plans to increase the small claims limit from $6,000 to $30,000.

In response to the March 14, 2009 announcement, CBA-NB issued a statement that it 
 

strongly opposes the announcement that the Province of New Brunswick has decided to eliminate the Small Claims Court and transfer small claims cases to the New Brunswick Court of Queen's Bench...

Small claims adjudicators were put in place in January of 1999 in order to reduce the backlog in the Court of Queen's Bench. "Prior to the appointment of adjudicators there were 1,600 small claims waiting to be heard by a Judge. It took months for a small claims matter to be heard" said Keyes [President of CBA-NB].

Transferring approximately 2,000 cases to the Court of Queen's Bench will quickly create backlogs and will significantly impair the efficiencies that are now present in the Court of Queen's Bench. "Litigants want their cases dealt with as quickly as possible. We fully expect that adding small claims to the already busy case load in the Court of Queen's Bench will cause serious delays in having all cases heard by the Court" said Keyes.

CBA Statement
  • New Brunswick Small Claims Court
February 1997 Small Claims Act assented to
January 1999 Small Claims Act came into force and Small Claims Court established
March 2009 Proposed elimination of the Court announced
June 2009 An act to repeal the Small Claims Actreceived royal assent
1999 Newfoundland and Labrador Mediation Pilot Project in Small Claims Court

Newfoundland and Labrador

Small Claims Court

Pilot project incorporating interest-based mediation into the small claims process and using articling students as mediators.

In 1999 the Small Claims Rules Committee decided to use third-year law students who were completing their articling as the mediators in the proposed mediation process. This obviated the need for any financing for the project as the mediation could be done on a volunteer basis; and as the law clerks were all members of the Law Society, there was already a regulatory body in place to maintain professional standards. At the time it was hoped that the law students would welcome a chance to be directly involved in the litigation process and that obtaining volunteers would not be a problem. This hope has come to fruition and the number of volunteers has, on some occasions, outstripped the number of cases to mediate. To date all of the law clerks in the bar admission course from 1999 to 2007 have participated in the process and all of them have reported they found the experience to be very useful.

We continued with the project this year [2008] despite a shortage of judicial resources which arose as a result of retirements and illness. We had a well attended organizational meeting with the law students in August and started to assign the mediation sessions in September. Not all of the 2008 class have had a chance to mediate as of the writing of this article but all of those who have completed a session reported that they enjoyed the experience and several have asked that they be given another mediation opportunity. The students since 1999 have been exposed to more ADR courses in law school and successive classes have grown much more comfortable in the role since the inception of the program. The settlement rate remains very high and it has been a great benefit to the many unrepresented litigants appearing in small claims court.

2008 Annual Report at 35

Results of the Mediation Process

On the litigation itself the success rate in terms of settling cases via mediation has not been high but it has been significant. On average, over the years, mediators have settled between 30 and 40 percent of the cases. Despite this, however, the majority of litigants have been positive about the process-finding that even if a full settlement of their case was not achieved, at least some of the issues were resolved and they were more prepared for trial. We had initially referred all cases to the medication process. Experience over the past six years has shown us that some cases are not amenable to mediation and will not settle. This has proved to be the case in motor vehicle accident cases. Generally speaking, before starting the court process these cases have already been through a form of mediation in that insurance adjusters have negotiated with the parties and further mediation or discussion between them at court is pointless. Most vehicle accident cases involve a determination of fault and turn on the findings of fact and parties are interested in having a trial and a determination being made by a Judge. As a result, the Small Claims Rules Committee has decided that this year, motor vehicle accident cases will no longer be mediated and instead will proceed directly to trial. All the remainder of the cases will still go through the mediation process.

2007 Annual Report at 34
 
 
 

In May of 1999 a "pilot" project was started in the Small Claims Court to incorporate interest-based mediation into the small claims process...Prior to introducing mediation the procedure was to hold a settlement conference pursuant to Section 10 of the Small Claims Act S.N.L. 1990. The settlement conference was chaired by the Judge and was essentially a first appearance to ensure that the parties were ready for trial. At the settlement conference, the Judge would explore the possibility of settlement with the litigants or make other orders such as default judgments in the event of a non-appearance but there was little opportunity for mediation.

2008 Annual Report at 35)
 
 

"The hope was that by using mediation fewer cases would go to trial and issues could be resolved at the settlement conference stage" (2008 Annual Report at 35).

The student experience compliments the bar admission course and it continues to be a very positive process for litigants, the Court, and the Bar. Interestingly our program has had an international effect. A delegation of judges from Eastern Europe was at the Court for a visit in the fall of 2007. They were extremely interested in our mediation program and we have since heard that they hoped to design a similar program to ours in their home courts utilizing their student Judges.

2008 Annual Report at 35

Ongoing pilot

  • law schools
  • mediation
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Small Claims Court
  • pilot projects
May 1999 Mediation plot project initiated
2007 Motor vehicle accident cases are no longer mediated
2006 Saskatchewan Small Claims Court - Case Management Conference

Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan Minister of Justice Advisory Committee

Small Claims Court

Overview of Saskatchewan Small Claims Court pre-trial case management process.

Saskatchewan's Small Claims Court uses a two-step process. "The first step is a case management conference (which the judge can waive) to settle the litigation or narrow the issues and resolve procedural matters. It includes familiarizing self-represented litigants with the process that will be followed at trial. The second step is trial, to which the first step has paved an efficient way." (Into the Future at 31-32)

Information packages for all stages of the process have been prepared for public use, as well as a flowchart of the overall process. This material has been made available at all court offices, placed on the Courts' website, and widely distributed to local agencies. Training and education initiatives included the preparation of a Bench Book for Judges presiding over small claims matters, a one day session for judges on case management conferences, and training sessions for court staff from each court office.
 

The Small Claims staff will prepare the documents and give you information on how to proceed. You do not need a lawyer to represent you, although you may have one if you wish. A pre-trial case management process has been introduced for small claims matters. A case management judge will assist the persons involved to settle the matter without going to trial. During the case management, the judge will be authorized to:

  • settle any issues being disputed;
  • decide any issues that do not require evidence;
  • make any appropriate order agreed to by the parties;
  • set a trial date if a trial is necessary;
  • discuss any evidence that will be required and the procedure that will be followed if a trial is necessary;
  • order the defendant to prepare a statement of defence;
  • order a party to produce any information at the case management conference or anything as evidence at trial;
  • order disclosure; and
  • make any order for the just, timely and inexpensive resolution of the action.

If settlement attempts have not resolved the dispute, a trial will be held. The judge may give any necessary directions to the persons involved to ensure the trial proceeds quickly and efficiently.
 

Website

 

A 2005 report by the Minister of Justice's Advisory Committee reviewed the small claims process. The Committee was composed of members from the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of Saskatchewan members. Focus groups were held with court staff, lawyers, and the public. Consultations were also held with the judiciary. The amendments to the Small Claims Act recommended in the report came into effect in 2006.

Prior to the amendments, case management conferences were already being utilized in the larger courts. They were highly successful, resulting in 50% of cases being settled out of court.

The Advisory Committee considered the alternative. The overwhelming response from those consulted was that the litigants wanted to hear the opinion of a Judge about the merits of the case, rather than of a non-judicial actor. Matters would be less likely to settle if Judges did not conduct the case management conferences.

The case management conference has two purposes:

  • settle the litigation, or
  • if no settlement can be reached, narrow the issues for trial and resolve procedural matters, to ensure a more efficient proceeding. This includes familiarizing self-represented litigants with the process which will be followed at trial.

Permanent implementation

  • case conferences
  • Saskatchewan Small Claims Court
2005 Minister of Justice Advisory Committee Report
January 2006 Amendments came into effect

 

2009 Evaluation of the Nova Scotia Small Claims Court

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.

 

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. 

Final Report

  • Small Claims Court
Date Event