The Saskatchewan Government announced upcoming changes to the province’s small claims legislation, which are meant to make the process faster and easier for everyone involved.
Small claims court is meant to offer a relatively quick and simple way for parties to settle disputes of less than $30,000, according to Neil Karkut, Crown counsel for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice. More than 2,000 small claims are heard in provincial court every year, he said, and parties often represent themselves. Karkut said the updated Small Claims Act gives increased power to judges as well as requiring defendants to file a response before they have their day in court. The new act will come into force Jan. 1, 2018, he said.
“The updates were part of the ministry’s innovation agenda, and the whole goal of that agenda is to enhance access to justice,” Karkut said. “The act is really looking at encouraging parties to try to resolve matters at an earlier stage.”
Defendants currently do not have to provide a reply when a small claims complaint is brought against them, Karkut said, but filing a reply will be required under the new act. This means all parties will go into court with a good sense of what arguments will be presented, he said, which can lead to much earlier resolutions.
Another of the major changes will see judges’ powers to award costs expanded, Karkut said. This means if one party intentionally delays the process, they could be penalized financially.
“If you have one party that might not attend at a stage where they’re supposed to be attending, or if they take steps to delay the process, the court may require that party to provide costs to the other individuals involved,” he said.
Judges will also have an easier time finding one party in contempt of court under the updated act, he said.
The new act will contain some general updates to bring it into line with modern times and technology, Karkut said. The old act mentions telephones and mail, he noted, but the updated one will include provisions for emailing court documents and video conferencing between the parties.
Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan said the legislation will make small claims court easier to navigate by those who might have no previous experience with the courts.
“This new legislation fulfills our commitment to review and improve the small claims process,” Morgan said in a statement. “With this legislation we’re hoping to make the small claims process easier to navigate and less costly for the people of Saskatchewan.”
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