Manitoba Law Reform Commission Releases Final Report on Improving the Small Claims System
By Valerie Le Blanc, Research Lawyer
14 February 2017â€”The Manitoba Law Reform Commission released its final report, Improving the Small Claims System in Manitoba, as part of the commissionâ€™s larger project on Access to Courts and Court Processes. Â The final report contains the commissionâ€™s eleven recommendations for reform of the provinceâ€™s Small Claims process.
Background of the Project
In March 2012, the commission released an Issue Paper to discuss some of the factors impacting access to justice in the province.Â Among the issues reviewed in its paper, the commission touched on the need for reform of the court system, suggesting â€śefforts to modernize and streamline rules of procedure may also make litigation more accessible to the self-represented, and reduce costs overall.â€ťÂ One of the ways to achieve this goal identified by the commission was to examine the opportunities for reform of its provincial Small Claims process.
The commission published a consultation report in October 2016 with preliminary recommendations, and called upon the public to comment on the proposed areas of reform to help prepare its final report.
Recommendations for Reform
A complete list of recommendations are provided at the end of its report, but can be summarized as follows:
Amendments to the Small Claims Practices Act:
- Increase the monetary limit for small claims matters;
- Amendments to the Small Claims Practices Act to allow for the increase in the monetary limit for small claims matters;
- Increase the general damages limit to an amount proportionate to the increase of the monetary limit;
- Amendments to the Small Claims Practices Act to allow for the general damages limit to be increased;
- Add wrongful dismissal claims to the list of excluded proceedings under section 3(4);
- Increase the costs limit to $500 under section 14(1)(a), except in exceptional circumstances;
- Remove the word â€śsuccessfulâ€ť section 14(1);
- Eliminate the requirement of a court officer to set a date for the hearing of a claim when a claim is filed under section 8(1), with a hearing date only set when the defendant files a Notice of Appearance; and
- Amendments to allow a claimant to require the registrar to note a defendant is in default if a defendant fails to file a Notice of Appearance within the prescribed time.
Amendments to the Court of Queenâ€™s Bench Rules:
- Rule 76.05(1) should be amended to require a defendant who intends to dispute a claim to file a Notice of Appearance within a prescribed period of time; and
- Repeal Rule 76.05(2) â€“ Defendant Entitled to be Heard.
In its final report, the commission suggests the above list of reforms will not only put Manitobaâ€™s Small Claims process in line with other jurisdictions in Canada, but will also improve access to justice in the province in two ways:
â€śFirst, an increase in the monetary limit means that more people are able to have their disputes resolved in a more cost effective and expeditious forum as opposed to the more onerous procedure and stricter rules of evidence at the Court of Queenâ€™s Bench. Second, more claims being directed to Small Claims Court will help to relieve the burden on the Court of Queenâ€™s Bench and free up judicial resources.â€ť
The report also reviews the history of Small Claims legislation and procedure in Manitoba, and then moves into an examination of how small claims matters are managed in other jurisdictions across the country.