New Brunswick

Small claims court to be reinstated

The Alward government plans to follow through on an election promise to re-establish a small claims court in the province, according to the Law Society of New Brunswick.

The Alward government plans to follow through on an election promise to re-establish a small claims court in the province, according to the Law Society of New Brunswick.

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

"The Department of Justice has informed the Law Society of New Brunswick that it has decided to re-establish a small claims court in New Brunswick as it existed prior to the transfer to the Court of Queen's Bench in July 2010," an email to society members on Thursday states.

It's unclear when the court will be reinstated, but the department is seeking input from society members first, according to the email.

The department has proposed decreasing the monetary limit to $10,000 from $30,000.

It has also proposed increasing the per diem paid to adjudicators, the society states.

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

In November 2010, Justice Minister Marie-Claude Blais pledged the 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.

Liberal decision denounced

The province's small claims court was established in 1999 to help deal with a backlog of unassigned cases in the Court of Queen’s Bench.

It was designed to hear civil suits involving debt, damages or personal property of values less than $6,000 in an informal process involving an adjudicator, rather than a judge.

But the former Liberal government, in its 2009 budget, announced plans to shift the entire small claims court process to the Court of Queen's Bench.

Officials estimated the transfer would save up to $400,000.

The then-president of the New Brunswick Law Society, David Ames, disputed those claims. He argued the province would have to hire more court staff to deal with another anticipated backlog in Court of Queen’s Bench proceedings.

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith also publicly denounced the decision, calling it a regressive move that would deter New Brunswickers from pursuing small claims.