Changes to BC law announced today will make important changes to the work the Provincial Court does under the Small Claims Act. Starting June 1, 2017, with just a few exceptions civil claims of up to $5000 will no longer be dealt with in the Provincial Court’s “Small Claims Court” – instead, they will be resolved in BC’s new online Civil Resolution Tribunal. At the same time, the upper limit of civil cases heard in Provincial Court will increase to $35,000.
This eNews will provide more details of these changes, and what they will mean for people with civil disputes in British Columbia.
What is Small Claims Court?
“Small Claims Court” is a term used sometimes to describe the civil law work the Provincial Court does under BC’s Small Claims Act, just as “Family Court” is sometimes used to describe its work under BC’s family law statutes. These days, “small claims” is really an inaccurate term, because the claims brought to Provincial Court aren’t small – they’re important to the parties and can involve significant dollar amounts.
What is the Civil Resolution Tribunal and what will it do?
Starting June 1, 2017, people with disputes involving up to $5000 must generally try to resolve them in the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) rather than in the Provincial Court.
The CRT is an online tribunal that will offer dispute resolution services you can use from your home, or anywhere with access to the internet, in three phases:
- Negotiation – first you communicate online with the other party to see if you can quickly settle the dispute between yourselves.
- Facilitation – if that doesn’t work, trained CRT staff will try to help you settle.
- Adjudication – if you can’t resolve the dispute, a Tribunal member may make a decision that can be enforced like a court order in Provincial Court, unless you or the other party files a notice of objection.
What if I have a claim of $5000 or less that has already been filed in Provincial Court?
The Provincial Court will continue to deal with all cases of up to $5000 that have been filed before June 1, 2017.
After June 1, will the Provincial Court have any role in claims of $5000 or less?
The Provincial Court will still deal with these cases in four circumstances:
- when the CRT does not have legal authority to deal with the subject matter of a claim
- when a judge orders that a matter proceed in Provincial Court instead of the CRT
- where one of the parties files a notice of objection to a CRT decision
- where no objection to a CRT order is filed, and a party asks to have the order enforced in Provincial Court.
What matters can the CRT resolve?
The issues within the authority of the CRT are:
- debt or damages
- recovery of personal property
- opposing claims to personal property
- demanding performance of an agreement about personal property or services.
- a claim for libel, slander or malicious prosecution
- a claim for or against the government
- a claim excluded from the authority of the CRT by regulations (there are no such exclusions now)
- a constitutional question (any question requiring notice under section 8 of the Constitutional Question Act)
- a question of whether there is a conflict between the Human Rights Code and another law.
Under section 11 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, the CRT can refuse to deal with a claim for several reasons, including:
- the claim does not involve an issue or a money amount within its jurisdiction
- the issues raised in the claim are too complex or otherwise impractical for its process.
Why would a judge order that the CRT not deal with a matter?
If a person applies to Provincial Court to be exempted from the CRT, a judge may order that it not facilitate settlement of a claim or adjudicate it if:
- the CRT does not have the legal authority to hear the claim
- it is not in the interests of justice and fairness for the CRT to hear it.
Sections 12.1 and 12.2 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act set out factors a judge may consider in making this decision.
What if I’m not satisfied with a CRT adjudicator’s decision?
For 28 days after they receive notice of a CRT final decision, a dissatisfied party can file a Notice of Objection with the CRT. This will make the CRT decision unenforceable. They can then file their claim or counterclaim in Provincial Court and proceed to a trial before a Provincial Court judge.
If the parties took part in facilitated dispute resolution at the CRT, their first Court appearance will be a trial conference to discuss preparation for trial. If they did not participate in dispute resolution, they will be given a date for a settlement conference.
Won’t everyone the CRT orders to pay just file an objection?
The CRT Act contains provisions to discourage people from filing a Notice of Objection without good reason.
First, a judge may order the objecting party to deposit money, up to the amount of the award, plus security for costs. And if the defendant at the CRT failed to file a response and then filed a Notice of Objection, in most cases the judge must make an order for payment of a deposit and/or security for costs, if the other party requests it.
Moreover, if the objecting party wins less at trial than at the CRT, the judge may order them to pay a penalty of up to 20% of the CRT award. It is only at this point, after making a decision, that the judge hearing a trial will see the CRT decision.
See section 56.3 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act and Rule 10.2 of the Small Claims Rules.
How can CRT orders be enforced?
Both negotiated consent orders and final decisions of the CRT can be filed in the Provincial Court for enforcement. (A final decision can only be filed after 28 days have passed without a Notice of Objection being filed.) Once a CRT order is filed with the Court, it has the same force and effect as a Provincial Court judgment, and can be enforced using the same procedures (section 58.1 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act). The Court currently deals with enforcement of Residential Tenancy Branch orders in a similar way.
Will there be other changes to Small Claims procedure in Provincial Court?
In Provincial Court in Vancouver and Richmond, Justice of the Peace Adjudicators will hold one-hour simplified trials for cases with a money value of $5001 to $10,000. In a simplified trial you or your lawyer state the facts, file any documents you rely on, and respond to the other party. The Justice of the Peace Adjudicator may ask you questions, ask you to swear to the truth of your statement, permit witnesses, and allow you or your lawyer to ask the other party questions. The Justice of the Peace Adjudicator provides their decision immediately or within 30 days.
What if I have a claim for $25,000 to $35,000 that has already been filed in the BC Supreme Court?
Your case will proceed in the Supreme Court unless one of the parties applies to a Supreme Court judge or master to transfer it to Provincial Court. The law about transferring cases, found in section 15 of the BC Supreme Court Act, has not changed.
What if I have filed a claim or counterclaim for $25,000 in Provincial Court before June 1 and want to increase it to $35,000?
Starting June 1, you will be able to change your Notice of Claim or Reply to increase the amount of your claim or counterclaim to up to $35 000, not including interest and expenses, by following the procedure set out in Rule 8 of the Small Claims Rules.
What about claims involving strata property issues?
Strata property issues are generally dealt with either in the CRT or in the BC Supreme Court (section 3.6 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act). However, some CRT strata property decisions are enforceable in the Provincial Court. Section 58 of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act describes those decisions.
Want more information?
These changes will take effect June 1, 2017. Find current Small Claims procedure here.
For more information, see:
- The Civil Resolution Tribunal’s website
- Government of BC Civil Resolution Tribunal information
- Civil Resolution Tribunal Act
- Small Claims Rules
The laws available online have not yet been updated with these changes. Until online statutes on bclaws.ca are updated, see the Orders in Council for the changes to the laws mentioned here. B.C. Reg. 111/2017 (bringing various sections of the Civil Resolution Tribunal Amendment Act, 2015 into force and making the Civil Resolution Tribunal Small Claims Regulation) is available here. An Order in Council amending the Small Claims Rules and Small Claims Monetary Limit Regulation will be added when it is available.