When people first realize they have a problem that might have to be solved via lawsuit, it’s not uncommon to get hung up on a procedural problem right at the very beginning: what court should hear the claim?
To keep things simple, we’ll limit this post to talking about civil claims – basically, disputes that aren’t about crimes, and aren’t about family issues like parenting time or spousal support.
For most civil law claims in British Columbia, the decision comes down to two courts: the BC Supreme Court, or the BC Provincial Court.
You may have heard people refer to the Provincial Court as “Small Claims Court” when the court is dealing with civil claims. The Provincial Court has special simplified rules for dealing with smaller claims that are designed to be more accessible to the average person.
That accessibility also extends to costs. Generally speaking, filing fees are lower in Provincial Court than in Supreme Court. The consequences of losing your case are also smaller in Provincial Court. In Supreme Court, the losing party will usually be required to pay a portion of the winning party’s legal fees. However, in a small claims action the losing party can only be required to pay the amount of the judgment against them, the cost of any filing fees, the expenses the successful party incurred to serve their documents, and any other reasonable expenses that the judge decides related directly to the proceedings (as well as, of course, their own legal fees). The losing party won’t be required to pay the successful party’s legal fees.
So what counts as a “small claim”? Well, a claim doesn’t have to be that small. The Provincial Court can hear civil claims for amounts up to $25,000.00. The Provincial Court can also hear disputes about issues other than money – if you want someone to return your personal property, or you want to require someone to follow through on a contract relating to personal property or services, those are disputes that can be heard in Provincial Court.
If your claim is for more than $25,000.00, or if you want to sue someone for libel, slander, or malicious prosecution, then you will have to go before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has what’s called “inherent jurisdiction” – that is, the Supreme Court can hear any case except for those that must be heard in a different forum or at a different level of court. The Supreme Court also hears appeals from decisions made in Provincial Court.
The Supreme Court Civil Rules are more complicated, and filing fees in Supreme Court are usually more expensive. The process in Supreme Court is also likely to take longer than the process in Provincial Court.
McBOP can help!
McConnan Bion O’Connor and Peterson can help you navigate the court process, by working with you to determine which court should hear your claim and representing you as you move forward with your dispute. Our lawyers have experience in all BC courts, from the Provincial Court to the BC Court of Appeal. Take a look at our Areas of Expertise, or contact us directly to learn how we can assist you with your dispute.
This blog is for information only, and is not intended as legal advice. If you need legal help, please contact us.