What Is a Small Claims Court?
A Small Claims Court is a special court with jurisdiction where the amount or property value in dispute does not exceed a province-specific amount. For example, in Ontario, the small claims court limit is $35,000. This court provides a more accessible, less formal, and less complicated way of litigating disputes.
How to represent yourself in small claims court
You are entitled to self-representation in the courts and do not need to hire a lawyer to sue someone.
The rules and procedures of the Small Claims Court were designed to be flexible and straightforward whether you are the party making claims (claimant) or the party responding to claims (defendant.) The process is intended to be easy for everyday people to have their disputes resolved without hiring a lawyer.
However, there are still a number of court forms or documents to fill out prior to court. If you are not familiar with the law that applies to your case and the court procedures, you may want to consult a lawyer to assist you. You may also use GetJustice’s small claims app to properly complete your small claims documents.
If you are a self-represented litigant in a Small Claims Court, you stand a better chance at succeeding with your case if you are well prepared. Here are five tips that can help.
- Know if Your Case Belongs to the Small Claims Court
Not all claims belong to the Small Claims Court. In the Small Claims Court, you can sue for:
- Claims for money owed under an agreement, such as goods sold and delivered but not paid for;
- Unpaid loans;
- Unpaid rent;
- Property damage;
- Personal injuries; and
- Breach of contract
It is important to keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. Before you begin, it is important to check the applicable provincial legislation to ensure that your claim is commenced in the appropriate court.
- Follow the Court Rules
Know the rules and procedures that govern the Small Claims Court. Each province in Canada has specific legislation that deals with relevant procedural matters in the Small Claims Court. Each court may also have different forms and procedures.
While you chose to self-represent, the other party in your trial might choose to be represented by a lawyer. Lawyers have advanced knowledge in the field of law and may request that the court rules and the rules of evidence be followed strictly in the proceeding. You will be expected to follow these rules irrespective of the fact that you are self-represented. Therefore, it is essential that you thoroughly research and know the rules of the court before your hearing.
- Get in Touch With Your Witnesses
Contact your witnesses to remind them of the hearing date and confirm that they will be in court on that day.
If you have an expert witness who will provide technical explanations to support the arguments you present as part of your case to the judge (for example, if your claim relates to a poorly executed building project, you may want to call an expert witness such as a building construction engineer) it is important to remind them of the court hearing dates.
In addition, you should allow the opposing party to respond to the case before them. Have your expert witness put their opinion in writing so you can share it with the opposing party prior to the hearing. You do not want to take the other party by surprise at the hearing by presenting your expert witness without giving prior notice.
- Prepare to Tell Your Story
Disputes are best presented in stories. The judge does not know your case as well as you do, and it is up to you to paint a clear picture of how the events leading to the dispute happened.
Come to court well prepared to clearly explain the events leading to the dispute in an orderly, convincing, and focused way without missing any important aspect.
Be familiar with the facts of your case and the law that applies to them. Think through your arguments. You can write down the main points that you want to share with the judge and properly rehearse your story before the hearing.
Be organized. Put your documents together and be prepared to explain how each document relates to your story and the case you are trying to make.
- Be Properly Dressed, Be Punctual, and Be Polite
Dress appropriately and comfortably in a semi-formal or formal outfit for your hearing. Arrive in court early; you don’t want to rush in late. This is equally true for virtual hearings.
If you’re having trouble sourcing the applicable forms to your case or if you’d like to speak to a lawyer, be sure to check out GetJustice’s services. We can help you with your court forms, service, filing, and even connect you with an external lawyer for a no-strings-attached consultation.