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Big Changes to Our Court System as of January 1, 2020

In a recent publication by the Ministry of the Attorney General, the government announced that Ontario is making it faster, easier, and more affordable to settle small claims.

How? Mainly by increasing the monetary jurisdictions in the Small Claims Court and under Rule 76, aka Simplified Procedure.

Small Claims Court

As of January 1, 2020, the government is increasing the monetary jurisdiction for Small Claims Court from $25,000 to $35,000. This means that individuals, as well as businesses have the option to represent themselves in Small Claims Court and be awarded up to $35,000, plus costs and interests.

Claims over $35,000 must proceed to the Superior Court of Justice. In the Superior Court, corporations must be represented by a lawyer. Whereas, in Small Claims Court, the parties have an option to represent themselves, hire a lawyer or retain the services of a paralegal.

With respect to appeals that arise from Small Claims Court decisions, the government has also increased the minimum amount of claim to $3,500 from $2,500.

Litigants who started a claim in the Superior Court can seek to transfer their case to the Small Claims Court after January 1, 2020, if the claim falls within the monetary threshold.

Rule 76: Simplified Procedure

More than two decades ago, in 1996, the Ontario government introduced Rule 76 to deal with cost and delay issues by reducing the number of pretrial procedures in cases involving relatively small amounts. Since then, Rule 76 has gone through various changes. Under our current system, plaintiffs with claims under $100,000 can commence a case under Rule 76. The current Rule 76, theoretically offers various mechanisms to streamline litigation, reduce costs and increase access to justice by using processes like summary examinations for discovery and a summary trial.

The problem is that litigants are rarely using it.

After a lengthy consultation process, the Ontario Government recently introduced Regulation 344/19, which amends Rule 76 effective January 1, 2020. Some of the seminal changes, includes:

  1. Monetary jurisdiction increased from $100,000 to $200,000
  2. For law suits commenced on or after January 1, 2020, the parties can only recover costs up to $50,000 and disbursements up to $25,000
  3. The time limit for oral Examinations for Discoveries are also increased from two hours to three hours
  4. The distinction between ordinary and summary trial is no longer available
  5. Trials under the new Rule 76 will be limited to a maximum of 5-days

Existing lawsuits with claims between $100,000 and $200,000 that were filed under the regular Rules, could be transferred to Simplified Procedure on or after January 1, 2020. The decision to transfer your case should be made in consultation with a lawyer. For example, a transfer may not be appropriate depending on the stage of your proceeding(s) and costs incurred.

The lawyers at Bernardi would be happy to offer assistance in navigating through these processes and help you determine the correct venue for your claim.