February 27, 2009

Low Income Litigants May Avoid Court Filing Fees

Court filing fees can be very expensive. Just filing the documents to start a claim, a Writ of Summons and Statement of Claim, costs $208 at the B.C. Supreme Court. It's another $208 to file a Notice of Trial and a minimum of $312 for each day of the trial. Add to that the filing fees for any motions or applications before the trial and filing fees alone can easily top $1000.

In limited circumstances, the court will give permission for a party not to pay filing fees if they can show that they have little or no income, and that their claim (or defence) is reasonable. In order to get this permission from the court, you need to make an application for indigency status. The Legal Services Society has put together an excellent, step-by-step guide on how to make an indigency status application. The guide is in the context of a family law application, but the steps are the same no matter what your legal issue.

I have two quick points to add to what is contained in the guide.

First, it may be that your court procedure does not require court fees to be paid. Check the list of court fees before you go to the trouble of preparing an indigency status application.

Second, the court will ask a person applying for indigency status detailed questions about their income, job prospects and assets. The hearing takes place in Chambers, a courtroom designated to deal with a number of shorter applications. Chambers courtrooms are often crowded with lawyers, especially in the morning session. If you are concerned about privacy, ask the registry to set down your application for the afternoon Chambers session, when there are generally very few people left in the courtroom.

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