The first question to ask, is do I have to go to court? What alternatives do I have? See the article Do I Have To Go To Court.

Whether it’s in the Provincial Court or the Supreme Court, the rules and court procedures are designed to encourage settlement. Commencing an action doesn’t necessarily mean that a trial will be held, and in fact, more than 90% of actions commenced are settled before trial.

Provincial Court is often called small claims court because its jurisdiction is limited to $25,000.00, whereas the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is unlimited.

The Provincial Court has been called the “people’s court” with the impression created that lawyers aren’t necessary. It’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer first before deciding whether you’ll need a lawyer. The Provincial Court is bound by rules and the law, including rules of evidence. See the article How to choose a lawyer.

In small claims actions, the first step is to go to mediation with a professional mediator. Although mediation is required, the mediator will not impose a result. Mediations are an opportunity to try to settle, and they’re often successful. Where mediation fails, the parties go to a case conference with a judge. The judge will also explore settlement, but except in rare circumstances, will not impose a result. If a settlement isn’t possible, the judge will make orders to make sure that both parties are ready for trial.

Provincial Court trials are conducted in much the same way as Supreme Court trials. The parties give oral evidence and can be cross-examined, documents are put into evidence and must be proven, and the judge will base the decision on relevant, admissible evidence and the law.

News rules were introduced into the Supreme Court in the middle of 2010. Generally, the new rules are intended to help parties and lawyers focus on the merits of cases early in the process, to encourage early settlement and look for alternatives to a traditional trial.

The most popular alternative to a traditional trial is the summary trial. In a summary trial, the evidence is put in by sworn affidavits with relevant documents attached. Generally, the judge will not allow a summary trial if there are serious credibility issues.

Another alternative to a traditional trial is a “fast-track” trial. These are only available for some certain cases where the issues are few and the evidence will be able to be completed in two days or less. There are special rules for fast-track cases, which also limit pre-trial procedures, such as examinations for discovery. The idea is that for a simple dispute parties shouldn’t have to go through a lengthy and expensive pre-trial and trial process. Fast tracks are often used in simple ICBC injury cases.

The court ultimately exists to resolve disputes not compromise them, and a traditional trial is still the best way to achieve this. Or, if you prefer, it’s the worst system, except for all of the others.

This article is for general information only, and should not be relied on as legal advice in any particular case. Consult a lawyer for advice on your case.

By Patrick McMurchy