In British Columbia, the Small Claims Court is actually the civil litigation arm of the Provincial Court of B.C. In a nutshell, it is highly deformalized but very much a court of law. Any claim of a value of $25,000 or less can be brought to this forum. A claimant can even bring a claim of a higher amount to the Small Claims Court, provided he truncates or "abandons part of the claim" to the limit of $25,000 (nor can a claimant split up a single cause of action into little parts all under the $25,000 threshold). The Small Claims Act also precludes any cases based on defamation or malicious prosecution. These latter claims, as those claims which exceed $25,000, must go to the Supreme Court. Note also that an appeal from the Small Claims Court is to the Supreme Court. Other cases, such as residential tenancy, are also precluded from the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court.

Cost of a small claims claim is between $100 and $156 depending on how much you're asking for.

The Supreme Court judging tends to be of a better quality but the Court is "stuffier" and less "lay litigant"-friendly then the Provincial Court (for example, you have to call a judge "Lord" or "My Lady" in Supreme Court)!

In the Supreme Court, judges tend to frown on claimants that try to represent themselves, especially in complex matters of law.

This is actually cherished in the Small Claims. The procedures of the Supreme Court are more extensive and less forgiving than those of the Provincial Court. Costs are greater in the Supreme Court as well. Proceedings in the Supreme Court are also saddled with complex pre-trial legal procedures that only a lawyer could adequately understand; procedures which are not part of the Small Claims system. Nor is personal service always required as it frequently is in the Supreme Court; Small Claims actions can typically be served by double-registered mail.

One of the wonderful things about the Small Claims court is that the judge can "admit as evidence ... any oral or written testimony, record or other thing that the court considers is credible or trustworthy and is relevant to the matter being heard, even though the testimony, record or other thing is not admissible as evidence in any other court under the laws of evidence." Also, "a judge may conduct a trial without complying with the formal rules of procedure and evidence." That means that hearsay or parole evidence may be acceptable.

In one fell swoop, this section of the Small Claims Act allows the judge to "cut to the chase" of the case by eliminating many of the technical objections that lawyers like to use to implement their case strategy.

The Small Claims Court is presided by a judge of the Provincial Court. Procedure is guided by the Small Claims Rules, an easy-to-read, must-have document for anyone who will be presenting, or defending, a case before the Small Claims Court.

The first step to filing a claim is to fill out a notice of claim and file it in the Provincial Court registry nearest to where the defendant lives or carries on business, or where "the transaction or event that resulted in the claim took place." In other words, the plaintiff has a choice. The Rules set out special rules for serving companies.

The defendant then has a limited time from receiving the notice of claim to reply (again using a special Form), and including a reply filing fee. The registrar is responsible for serving (by mail) the reply on the other parties. The defendant is also allowed to counter-claim or to enjoin a third party, if he believes that this third-party "should pay all or part of the claim."

If the defendant does not file a reply, then you'd be well advised to move quickly for a default order and attaching a copy of the certificate of service. If the claim is for a debt, the registrar may make an order right away. If the claim is not for a debt, the registrar will set a date for a hearing before a Small Claims judge and the defendant is "not entitled to receive notice of a hearing under this rule". In fact, the right to reply is lost except with the special permission of a judge. The default hearing is to allow the judge to determine the amount of money, or other type of order which might be appropriate.

If the defendant does file a reply, a settlement conference is convened. All parties receive notice of the conference from the registrar. All parties must be at settlement conferences, with or without their lawyers failing which the judge has the authority to dismiss the claim or enter a payment order against the absent party. There are some exceptions. For example, a defendant who does not dispute liability, just the amount of the claim, may be excused. You'd better be prepared for the conference: the judge may order you to pay the expenses of the other party is the settlement conference cannot be conducted properly because a party is not prepared for it. The parties must bring all the documents that they are relying on such as correspondence, medical reports or records of expenses or losses incurred.

At a settlement conference, the judge has a wide variety of powers, all aimed at settling the case and avoiding trial if possible. For example, the judge may mediate between the parties, make an order if agreed to between the parties, and even dismiss the claim if the judge decides that it is not reasonable or "discloses no triable issue." Another important fact related to the conference is that up to that time, amendments to claims or replies may be done without the permission of the judge. After the conference, they may only be done with the permission of the judge.

Sandwiched into the process but usually before the settlement conference is mediation. This article doesn't allow for detailed review of the convulted thresshold which as to process, in any event, varies from registry to registry.

If it's off to trial you go, you'll need to summons witnesses using Form 8, which has to be served at least 7 days before the trial date. You can order that person to bring any records that may be required (ignoring a Small Claims summons can be serious; the rules say you can be jailed for it). Again, the consequences for not attending a trial when it has been set means that your claim or reply can be rejected.

The Small Claims courts are gentle with a defendant held liable for the payment of a money award. The judgement debtor can ask for a payment hearing at which time, the court may order a payment schedule.

This information, provided to you by Lloyd Duhaime, is for informational  purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice or instruction. Rules and the law change rapidly. Consult a lawyer or other legal professional for advice relating to a legal  problem. Laws and Court costs can be amended with little warning and change some  of the information below so make sure, if you want to "do it yourself", that you  consult official court or government publications such as the official statutes  of B.C. or the Gazette.