Hurdles for self-represented litigants in small claims court.

Author:Mushtaq, Amer

The rules and processes at Small Claims Court were designed to be simple and flexible, so that everyday people could have their disputes resolved without hiring lawyers or paralegals. However, the reality is that many self-represented litigants continue to face significant hurdles in accessing the justice system through Small Claims Court without professional help.

This problem has become significant in the last few years, as more and more people are representing themselves in Small Claims Court. Due to the significant rise in self-representation, one hopes that the court system will evolve to better meet the needs of self-represented litigants. In the meantime, here are answers to some of the common issues that the self-represented litigants are currently facing.

Where to Begin: does your case belong in a Small Claims Court? Monetary Jurisdiction

Each Canadian province has enacted specific legislation for small claims matters. This legislation deals with various relevant procedural matters. For instance, the legislation will confirm the monetary jurisdiction of a provincial small claims court or lay out the procedure for determining which specific court office location to choose when commencing a court action in a small claims court. In Alberta, for example, a claimant can seek monetary remedy of up to $50,000 in the Provincial Court--Civil (commonly known as Small Claims Court), whereas in Ontario, the monetary limit is $25,000 in small claims court. Self-represented litigants must check the applicable provincial legislation to ensure that their claim is commenced in the appropriate court.

Subject Matter of the Claim

Sometimes, when a case is within the monetary jurisdiction of a small claims court, a litigant may still not be permitted to issue a claim there. For instance, in Ontario, when a case is specifically related to a human rights discrimination matter, the only place a litigant can file his case is with the Human Rights Tribunal. Similarly, the majority of landlord and tenant matters cannot be commenced in Small Claims Court in Ontario, but only in the respective provincial landlord and tenant tribunals. In Alberta, on the other hand, landlord-tenant disputes are properly adjudicated before the small claims court. Therefore, it is important for self-represented litigants to consider whether the subject matter of their claim properly belongs to a small claims court.

Court Location

Many self-represented litigants in Ontario assume...

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