The reason why I started this podcast is to send out more information about the small claims court. When I get calls from potential clients, I sometimes have to turn down their cases because my fees would outstrip what they would get in return if they won their case. Now, my fees are half that of the average lawyer, but I don’t want to put a client in the position of having to pay more for me than what they are suing for in the first place.
There has been a small claims court in what is now known as Ontario since before Confederation. The first small claims court was first known as the Division Court back in 1837. It has always been a “people’s court” just as it is now. If you wanted to appeal the decision, the appeal would go to the County Court. The types of claims that came up in the Division Court are the same today. Business debts, return of goods, things like that.
The monetary limit in which a claim can be heard in the Small Claims Court has changed over time. The monetary limit in Small Claims Court in 1979 was $1,000. For a brief time, there was a split between Toronto and the rest of the Province, which left a two-tiered monetary limit, depending upon whether you were inside Toronto or outside of Toronto. Inside Toronto, the monetary limit was $3000. Outside of Toronto, the limit was still $1000. In 1984, Toronto Small Claims Court, known as the Provincial Court (Civil Division), was amalgamated again with the Small Claims Court for the rest of the province. But the division continued: Deputy Judges could only hear cases up to $1000 and Provincial Court Judges could hear claims between $1000 and $3000. Another major change came in 1990 with name changes to the various courts. The Small Claims Court became and is now a branch of the Superior Court of Justice. In 1993 the monetary limit was increased to $6000. In 2001, the monetary limit went up to $10,000. By 2010, the monetary limit increased to it’s new and current limit of $25,000.
The Small Claims Court is a special procedure that simplifies the rules of court and this special procedure goes out of its way to help self-represented people not familiar with the law and how it works. When you think of the difference between the Superior Court and the Small Claims Court, there is lots to consider. The Rules of Civil Procedure has 77 rules that govern court proceedings, while the Small Claims Court have 22 rules. The rules of evidence are relaxed in the Small Claims Court, allowing for “hearsay” evidence. In the Superior Court, there are detailed rules on discovery of documents and evidence from each side of a claim. In the Small Claims Court, there are no special rules for the discovery of documents other than it must be in the claim or defence when served or given to the other side at least 30 days before trial. The biggest difference between Small Claims Court and the Superior Court is time. Small Claims Court actions take, from start to finish about 12 to 18 months to complete. Superior Court actions can take many years.
I created “The Ontario Small Claims Court Podcast” in order to help self-represented litigants (SRLs) navigate the Small Claims Court when it would be just too cost-prohibitive to hire a paralegal. After all, the Small Claims Court was created for SRLs in mind in the first place. I hope that can help you in some small way! Click on the button below to go to the first episode: