Small claims change worries lawyer
Financial risk jumps under new arrangement
A Moncton woman is worried the demise of New Brunswick's small claims court will deter people from taking legal action.
Annalisa Turner, a former lawyer, has a grievance with a car dealership. She decided to take it to small claims court, only to discover the court had stopped operating on July 15.
New Brunswick claims are now heard in the Court of Queen's Bench, which has jurisdiction over major civil and criminal matters, rather than by an adjudicator.
That created a change in the financial risk of going to court, she said.
"In small claims court, if either party had been awarded costs, they would have been limited to $500. Now, there is no limit to costs … which is a bit scary," she said.
"Somebody who may have thought about bringing an action may change their mind knowing there could be thousands of dollars of costs awarded against them."
She said the new process, called rule 80, makes the entire process more intimidating.
"The fact that costs are not capped is a bit daunting. The actual process itself is a bit daunting," she said.
"Whereas you used to be able to get a small claims action resolved usually within three months, I think the time frame may be longer now. It also may be more intimidating in appearing in an actual Court of Queen's Bench in front of a judge, more so than in front of an adjudicator."
Rene Basque, a past president of the New Brunswick branch of the Canadian Bar Association, shared Turner's concerns.
He said issues of access and potential case backlogs need to be looked at under the new arrangement.
"We were hoping we would be able to study it and see if any changes were needed," he said.
"We are concerned that this will re-create the backlog of cases and [a] slowing down and less access to the Court of Queen's Bench."
Turner said she will press on with her legal action.