February 18, 2009

Simplify Your Trial, Judge Judy Style

Have you ever watched the Peoples' Court or Judge Judy on television and wished you could solve your court case in only an hour?

You may be able to do just that, thanks to a Small Claims Court pilot project underway at the Robson Square and Richmond Small Claims courts. The project requires that all claims under $5000 (with a few exceptions, including personal injury) must be determined using a simplified trial process under Rule 9.1 of the Small Claims Rules.

A simplified trial is a one-hour streamlined trial before a justice of the peace who acts as an adjudicator. The process starts like any other Small Claims action; the claimant files a Notice of Claim and then the defendant files a Reply.

Each party must then file a document called a Trial Statement in Form 33 at the registry at least 14 days before the simplified trial and serve it on each of the other parties at least seven days before the simplified trial. The Trial Statement must include:

  • a statement of facts in the order in which they occurred

  • a calculation of the amount claimed

  • copies of the relevant documents

  • and a list of witnesses with a brief summary of what each witness will say

The benefits of a simplified trial for non-lawyers include the following:

  • the adjudicator does not have to apply the usual rules of evidence and procedure, so you don't have to have any legal knowledge to state your case. No one will be able to yell, "Objection! Hearsay!" like they do on television. (Rule 9.1(20)(a))

  • There is usually no formal examining and cross-examining witnesses (Rule 9.1(20)(b))

  • There aren't any delays caused by documents going back and forth between the parties. Everything is in the Trial Statement, which gives you all the information you need about the other side's case.

  • Since the hearing usually lasts only an hour, the amount of disruption to your work and other obligations is minimal.

  • The process is generally less formal, and therefore less intimidating, than appearing before a judge in an ordinary court case.

If your claim is over $5000, the benefits of the simplified trial may be so great that it may be worth abandoning any amount of your claim which is over the limit just so that you can use the simplified trial process. This is allowed under Rule 5.1(5) - all you have to do is state on your Notice of Claim that you are abandoning any amount of your claim over $5000.

The adjudicator has a lot of discretion about how the hearing will proceed, and he or she will often ask questions of the parties and witnesses in order to get all the information necessary to decide the issue in a short period of time.

Kind of like Judge Judy, only without the finger-pointing.

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