Small Claims Court – is it broken ?

Our firm’s fantastic Paralegal, Murray Brown, is various Ontario Small Claims Courts each and every week. When we discuss many of his files, I can’t help wonder: is this system broken?

Small Claims Court is mandatory for claims $ 25,000.00 and under. Most of the Judges are “Deputy Judges” which means they are practicing lawyers sitting as Judges of the Small Claims Court. Often these lawyers are family law and criminal lawyers, neither of which are areas of law the Small Claims Court addresses.

The challenge with having the Small Claims Court staffed with Deputy Judges is that, in addition to sitting in Small Claims Court twice per month (at least) they have their own matters to handle as lawyers. This becomes a problem when trials go more than one day, which is generally always the case. Why is that? It’s that way because the list is stacked with so many matters, that there is no way for the Deputy Judge to get through a trial on one day. This means the trial continues many months later: this is not a good thing.

Back when I started practicing law, the Small Claims Courts has dedicated Judges. This eliminated the scheduling issues we’re currently dealing with and that is very important for people using the system. Justice delayed is often justice denied.

Like many aspects of our Civil Litigation system in Ontario the system is broken because it is not properly funded. We need to fix our system.

Inga B. Andriessen JD