Further changes to the Provincial Court Civil Division here in Alberta, lovingly referred to as “small claims court”, have long been rumored since the Court increased its monetary jurisdiction to $50,000 in August of this year.
At a Canadian Bar Association section meeting held earlier today, more details were revealed. From the sounds of things, two big changes are to be expected.
First, the introduction of a schedule for costs. Presently, small claims courts across the province tend to award costs to the successful litigant based on an informal 5/10% rule. If represented by counsel, the successful party will normally be awarded 10% of the costs of the claim. If self-represented, then the successful party may receive 5% of the value of the claim.
Under proposed amendments to the Provincial Court Act, a schedule for costs analogous to what is presently available with Schedule C of the Court of Queen’s Bench Rules of Court will be in place. Costs will be awarded for various steps taken in the litigation process and will be awarded in various amounts depending on the value of the claim. Theoretically, this will result in costs awards that better represent the true costs incurred in bringing and action in the Provincial Court.
The other noteworthy change will be the introduction of what was described as a Simplified Trial Stream. Similar to the simplified procedures available in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and some parts of the United Kingdom, the Simplified Trial Stream will likely involve self-represented parties only and will permit the Court to resolve the trial in less than one hour. The parties will be required to file with the Court a Trial Statement that will include copies of the pleadings, theory of the case, damages calculations, and relevant documents. The Court will also have the discretion to limit cross-examination and will be at liberty to hear from one or both or none of the parties. A judge (or perhaps a senior clerk) will triage all newly filed claims and direct appropriate cases, such as those where no real defence exists, to the Simplified Trial Stream.
As I understand it, the draft amendments to the Provincial Court Act are essentially complete although the exact figures to include in the schedule of costs has not been determined. It is hoped that the whole package will be ready for the legislature for the spring sitting.