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New measures to increase the accessibility of justice in Quebec

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Civil and commercial litigation

The Government and the National Assembly of Quebec have recently made a number of changes to the law in order to attempt to make courts more accessible to ordinary people, as well as to reduce the costs of litigation, so that more people may have access to the justice system for their legal disputes.

New Limits for Cases Involving Individuals and Companies

For instance, as of January 1st, 2015 the limit for cases that may be pursued in the Small Claims Court has been raised from $7 000.00 to $15 000.00. This means that, if you are an individual who wants to sue another individual or a company, you may do so in Small Claims Court as long as the claim does not exceed $15 000.00, excluding interest. Furthermore, an individual who is sued for a sum of $15 000.00 or less may require that the case be transferred to the Small Claims Court division.

When cases are heard before the Small Claims Court, in general and with only very rare exceptions, neither party may be represented by a lawyer. They must either represent themselves or they may mandate an employee or someone else to represent them, so long as this is not a lawyer. This rule promotes accessibility to the court system for many people by eliminating the possibility of paying a lawyer to represent you at a trial.

Anyone in still entitled to consult a lawyer with respect to any claim or case before the Small Claims Court, and to retain his services for assistance in preparing the case. However, the party before the Small Claims Court is not allowed to have the lawyer actually try the case on his behalf.

In addition, a further change to the law is expected to come into effect sometime later this year or perhaps early next year, in that more companies will also be permitted to sue in the Small Claims Court. At the present time, only companies with five or fewer employees may sue in the Small Claims Court. When the change in the law takes effect (which is unknown at this point in time because the Government has not yet decreed when the change will take effect) companies with as many as ten employees may sue in Small Claims Court, thereby reducing the costs to themselves of having to retain a lawyer for matters worth $15 000.00 or less. It is important to note that for matters over $15 000.00, on the other hand, it is mandatory for legal persons, for example, corporations, to be represented by a lawyer before the courts.

A further example of making the court system more accessible is the change to the limits of the jurisdiction of the Superior Court and the Court of Quebec. At a date still to be determined, the limit of the Superior Court jurisdiction shall rise to $85 000.00 and above, from its current limit of $70 000.00 and above. This change will also be indexed to inflation and will be raised periodically by increments of $5 000.00, without necessity of an amendment by the National Assembly. The jurisdiction of the Court of Quebec will in consequence also be raised from less than $70 000.00 at present, to less than $85 000.00 when the change comes into effect.

Fewer Civil Nature Cases in the Superior Court

One way that these changes will make the courts more accessible is that more cases of a purely civil nature will be removed from the Superior Court, and will thereby free up more judges to hear very time-consuming Family Law cases, which must be heard by a Superior Court judge, and which are becoming more numerous all the time. It is also predicted that the change will not mean more work for Court of Quebec judges, because more and more cases are being settled out of Court, in part, due to the expense of litigation and of paying lawyers, especially when considered in proportion to the amounts of money being claimed in the Court of Quebec. For example, more and more people might come to the conclusion that it may not make a lot of common sense to pay lawyers $15 000.00 or $20 000.00 or $25 000.00 in order to try cases over 2 or 3 days for amounts worth considerably less than $85 000.00. The expense of litigation will be, therefore, an incentive to settle cases out of court, thus freeing up judges to hear cases that cannot be settled, and, in theory, making the courts more accessible to others who cannot settle their disputes.

The National Assembly and the Government have also planned new limits on out-of-court examinations, which can be time-consuming and therefore costly both in terms of money paid to lawyers to prepare, to conduct and to be present at such out-of-court examinations, as well as to the stenographers required to record the testimony at such examinations. For matters where the law suit is worth up to $30 000.00, no out-of-court examinations will be permitted once the new law comes into effect. As well, there will be limits placed on the numbers of examinations, as well as the hours such examinations may last, depending upon the dollar value of the law suit. This is all aimed at reducing the cost of litigation and therefore to make the justice system more accessible to more people.

While these are certainly important steps forward, it may be argued that Quebec is still behind Ontario in terms of its measures to make the justice system more accessible and to reduce the cost of litigation. For example, in the province of Ontario, the limit of the Small Claims Court has been, for several years, $25 000.00. This means that a greater number of cases may be brought before the Ontario Small Claims Court without the expense of retaining a lawyer to try the case.

Franco Tamburro, lawyer
Alepin Gauthier Avocats Inc.

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