From Wally Oppal, QC, Attorney General of BC

Small claims pilot project

In November 2007, the BC cabinet approved amendments to the small claims rules, launching the small claims court pilot project. The pilot project was developed jointly by the BC Provincial Court, BC Dispute Resolution Practicum Society and the Ministry of Attorney General as part of the provincial government’s justice reform initiative. The pilot is based on the understanding that the justice system should invest in solutions that are proportionate to the legal problem with, for example, the least complex matters being addressed most quickly.

All cases filed in the Robson Square registry after November 26, 2007 will follow four streams:

1. Thirty-minute summary trials before a judge for all financial debt claims up to $25,000 (for example, credit card debt, loans or overdrafts).

The parties must file and serve on the other parties any contracts, statements of account, proofs of payment or other documents on which they rely. (Rule 9.2)

2. One-hour simplified trials before a legally trained justice of the peace for claims under $5,000 (except for financial debt under Rule 9.2 and personal injury claims).

The parties are required to file and serve on the other parties a trial statement and summary of facts, a calculation of the amount claimed, copies of relevant documents and a list of witnesses they intend to call, including a brief summary of the witnesses’ anticipated testimony.

Simplified trials will be heard during night court at Robson Square. Simplified trials will also be heard in Richmond, but those hearings will be held during the day. (Rule 9.1)

3. Two-hour mediation sessions for claims over $5,000 and up to $25,000 (except for financial debt claims under Rule 9.2) and for personal injury claims of any amount.

Mediators will be assigned by the BC Dispute Resolution Practicum Society, at no cost to the parties. This aspect of the pilot project builds on the court mediation program at Robson Square (and four other registries). Settlement rates and party satisfaction rates with mediations under the court mediation program have been high. (Rule 7.4)

4. Thirty-minute trial conferences before a judge for claims not settled in mediation, followed, if necessary, by a trial.

The parties will be required to file and serve on the other parties the same documents as in a simplified trial. At the trial conference, the judge will determine the amount of time required for the trial and make orders for the effective hearing of the claim. The judge may also decide issues that do not require evidence, dismiss claims that are without reasonable grounds or an abuse of the court’s process, or give a non-binding opinion on the probable outcome of the trial. If the claim is not resolved at the trial conference, it will be scheduled for trial. (Rule 7.5)

More information about the pilot project is available at www.gov.bc.ca/ag (type “small claims pilot project” in the search bar). We will be evaluating the pilot to determine if these reforms should be expanded to other registries.