Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ontario Small Claims Court Limit to be Upped to $25,000 in 2010

Significant changes were announced today by Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley that may revolutionize the way civil claims are handled in Ontario's court system.

The amendments, to come into effect in January 2010, will provide that:
  • The monetary jurisdiction of Ontario's Small Claims Courts will increase to $25,000.00 from the current $10,000.00 limit;
  • The streamlined simplified procedures in Ontario Superior Court's will apply in cases where up to $100,000.00 is claimed, up from the current $50,000.00 ceiling.
The new regulations will also establish limits to a party's entitlement to extended examinations for discovery in Superior Court proceedings. Under the proposed legislation, all discovery by a party is to be confined to one day, unless agreement is reached or an Order is obtained permitting extended discovery.

See the Attorney General's news release on the initiative, for additonal backround.

The proposed changes are intended to tackle the access to justice problems that have plagued the Province's court system.  

The Toronto Star reported on the Attorney General's announcement of the new procedures:
"This will provide greater access to justice to all Ontarians and to all Ontario businesses," Bentley said during a news conference at the Law Society of Upper Canada. It was attended by several high-ranking judges and prominent litigators who have been pressing for reforms to the civil justice system to make the cost of going to court more affordable.
I can respect the good intentions behind this initiative.  I am not particularly sold, however, on the notion that a leaner justice system will ultimately prove to be a wiser system. 

Certainly, the Small Claims Court sytem will require a massive overhaul, in terms of infrastructure and court procedures, to prepare for the exponentially more complex and voluminous caseload that lies ahead.  

Will mandatory mediation be preserved for cases in the new system?  Certainly, there has been no tool more effective in achieving expedited and cost-effective dispute resolution.

I'll review the new legislation in entirety before commenting further, but for now, I'm more than a bit skeptical of a civil procedure system that elevates cutting corners to the level of a primary, organizing principle.

Are there really any shortcuts to justice?

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