New Brunswick

Small claims court bill introduced

The Alward government has introduced a bill to re-establish small claims courts in New Brunswick, following through on an election promise.

Marie-Claude Blais says the court should be re-established by fall

The Alward government has introduced a bill to re-establish small claims courts in New Brunswick, following through on an election promise.

Small claims court was transferred to the Court of Queen’s Bench in 2010 by the former Liberal government in an effort to save money — a controversial decision that generated much criticism at the time.

Small claims courts allow people with cases involving small amounts of money to avoid a full lawsuit and trial.

"We're going to be ready, on the ground in the fall, we hope," said Justice Minister Marie-Claude Blais, who introduced the Small Claims Act Friday morning.

"We have to retrain, re-choose, adjudicators, so there's things we have to put in place, but we're very happy today to have met that commitment," she said.

"We feel that it is very important."

In November 2010, Blais pledged the provincial government would make good on its campaign promise to reinstate the so-called people’s court "soon," despite fiscal challenges.

Small claims court ensures access to justice for everyone, not just the rich, she had said.

On Friday, Blais described the Liberal's system as flawed, inefficient and ineffective.

Changes based on consultations

Re-establishing small claims will cost $270,000, she said.

The Liberals contend folding small claims cases into the full court system was actually more efficient.

But many lawyers, experts and even some judges questioned the cut back in 2010, saying it would result in a backlog and more staff would have to be hired.

"We have consulted extensively with the New Brunswick Law Society and the Canadian Bar Association, New Brunswick branch," said Blais.

Based on those consultations, the government has decided to increase the maximum allowable claim to $12,500, up from the $10,000 limit originally planned, she said.

The provincial government is committed to reviewing that amount in the future, said Blais.

The procedures for filing and hearing small claims matters are expected to be much the same as they were before.