Effective June 1, small claims of up to $5,000 will be dealt with online through a Civil Resolution Tribunal rather than through the provincial court's small claims process, the B.C. Ministry of Justice said Monday.
At the same time, the upper limit of civil cases heard in provincial court will increase to $35,000.
Justice Minister Susan Anton called the move a "giant step forward for access to justice."
It will make it easier for British Columbians to "resolve their legal disputes more affordably, and with less complexity," she added in a press release.
Claims filed before June 1 will still be considered under the old system.The CRT will provide a three-step process beginning with negotiation to see if the parties can settle the dispute between themselves. If that doesn't work, trained staff will try to help and if the parties still remain at odds, a CRT member may make a decision similar to a court order.
The CRT will have authority over claims involving debt or damages, recovery of personal property, opposing claims to personal property and demands of performance of an agreement about personal property or services.
Claims for defamation, filed against the government, that may involve a conflict between the Human Rights Code and another law and cases "too complex or otherwise impractical" are among those exempted from the CRT's authority.
Likewise, CRT findings can be appealed to to the provincial court within 28 days of receiving CRT's final decision.
But measures will be in place to prevent abuse of that step.
First, a judge may order the objecting party to deposit money, up to the amount of the award, plus security for costs. And if the defendant at the CRT failed to file a response and then filed an appeal, in most cases the judge must make an order for payment of the money, if the other party requests it.
Moreover, if the objecting party wins less at trial than at the CRT, the judge may order them to pay a penalty of up to 20 per cent of the CRT award. It is only at this point, after making a decision, that the judge hearing a trial will see the CRT decision.
The CRT already deals with claims involving strata property issues.
"We're focussed on providing convenient, timely, and affordable dispute resolution services that work around people's busy lives," CRT chair Shannon Salter said in the release.
Further details on how the new process will work can be found at the B.C. Provincial Court website.