On January 1, 2019 new Provincial Court civil rules come into effect. The goal of the new rules is to the “ensure expeditious, and inexpensive resolution” of legal disputes. To achieve these goals the new rules expand upon the discretion of Court to direct the resolution of disputes. The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the key changes these new rules will bring.
The Alberta government recently proclaimed several amendments to the Provincial Court Act (Act). There are many notable changes, but two stand out:
First, the Act is being amended to open the door for an increased monetary limit for Provincial Court claims. Currently, claims are limited to $50,000.00 by regulations, but the Act will be amended to permit alteration of the regulations to set monetary limit of $100,000.00. This signals a coming shift away from litigation at Queen’s Bench for an increasingly broad number of “small” matters.
Second, the Act has been amended to allow Courts further discretion to direct procedures for taking evidence and hearing matters. The Act already provides Courts broad discretion to take virtually any kind of evidence. Under the new rules, the Court will have expanded discretion to direct the amount of hearing time, number of witnesses, amount and type of evidence, and confine parties to the particulars of their pleadings. These changes are a sweeping allocation of procedural control to the Courts.
The changes to the Act are accompanied by two new regulations: The Provincial Court Civil Procedure Regulations (Procedures Regulation) and the Provincial Court Civil Forms Regulation (Forms Regulation). Litigants should be aware of, and use, new court forms – be sure to check the Provincial Court Forms website regularly – but the Procedure Regulation will ultimately pose much more significance to resolution of claims.
The Procedures Regulation works in tandem with the goals of the amended Act. The regulations attempt to reduce costs by bringing the law up-to-date with modern technological means. After January 1, 2019 litigants may serve more documents via electronic means and more proceedings can be conducted via electronic hearings. These are sensible changes that should cut costs and improve efficiency. The regulations also take aim at efficiency and cost-saving by providing new resolution processes such as binding judicial dispute resolution and the simplified trial process.
The simplified trials process is meant for less complex cases suitable to resolution on the basis of written “Trial Statements”. Trial Statements are documents containing concise summaries of facts, arguments, and evidence. Parties will exchange trial statements and submit them to the Court. It appears simplified trials will be decided entirely on the contents of these trial statements. Simplified trials remove the need for lengthy hearings and thus should help expedite resolution of claims.
These changes undoubtedly aim to improve speed and reduce costs of Provincial Court claims – but – there is a not-so-subtle downside: loss of control. The changes provide the Court expanded powers to impose a resolution process, and the imposition can have significant consequences for litigants. For example, in the case of a simplified trial, a litigant get one attempt to clearly and effectively articulate their case in a trial statement, and there is no guarantee they will be able to test evidence of the other side or even meet in-person with their decision-maker. There is serious potential for such processes to cut two ways, particularly for those ill-equipped to write their arguments. The new rules take aim at efficiency and cost, but in doing so they may vitiate claimants’ control and capacity to conduct claims.
Litigants should – now more than ever – consult a lawyer about Provincial Court claims (even if they can only afford a limited retainer or consultation). Finding the best resolution track, and getting it right the first time will be critical under the new rules. As monetary limits increase and tracks for resolution expand, it is important to strategize and present a claim to maximize one’s chances of success.