Small Claims News

By: Deputy Judge Janis Criger

I am writing this on May 2, 2022. By now, all of you have received Chief Justice Morawetz’s memorandum and guidelines for the resumption of in-person hearings. I am writing this article to let you know how this will work in the Hamilton Small Claims Court. 

First, you probably know that each Small Claims Court is different. These reflections apply only to the Hamilton Small Claims Court.

The Transition

As of April 19, 2022, the Court is transitioning to in-person hearings for trials and for examinations in aid of execution. The remainder of proceedings, such as settlement conferences and motions, will stay remote, conducted over Zoom.
The transition will happen quite slowly. I have just sent the sittings calendar to the Court staff. It covers July 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022. Some trials have already been scheduled remotely. Those will remain remote, absent request from the parties or their representatives for another format.

If you have Small Claims matters that you have been unable to settle following a settlement conference, now is the time to deliver your Notice of Trial. Scheduling is generally first come, first served.
What if the parties/representatives want a different format?

If you already have a trial scheduled remotely, it will not transition automatically to in-person. It will stay remote. You can request that it be heard in person. Where the request is on consent, file the consent for consideration. If it is not on consent, please send brief email submissions to your opponent and the Court, so that they can be responded to by your opponent and considered. The Deputy Judge scheduled to hear your case has the final say on the manner of hearing.
If you receive a trial notice for an in person trial, you can request that it be heard remotely using the same method above. Where it is not on consent, brief submissions should specify why a remote hearing is the better manner of hearing, having regard to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Court’s process.

Will we be using paper documents?

The parties, witnesses and the Deputy Judge will be present in person in the courtroom. However, all documents to be referred to or relied on will be electronic. The Court requires electronic documents, filed through the appropriate portal at least 10 days before the Trial, so that the Deputy Judge has time to read the materials.

You will, of course, need to bring the appropriate devices to Court to view and/or share electronic documents.

There will be occasions when a party is unable to produce electronic documents. This might be particularly so for self-represented litigants without access to a computer or scanner. In those cases, the party should serve you with paper documents. 
By now, I hope most firms are using some form of electronic document management and filing all incoming documents electronically after scanning. If so, and your opponent does not have the capacity to produce electronic documents, you might receive a short endorsement from the Court asking you to email your opponent’s documents to the Court for handling.

I recognize that this might feel like an imposition. However, the Small Claims Court is a court of record. It is vital during this transition, and ongoing, that we take in all parties’ complete documents so that all admissible evidence is marked and in the electronic record. It is as important for you as it is for your opponent that the record is complete, so that the resulting judgment can be reviewed, if necessary, by a higher court.

What if I filed my pleadings, with documents, electronically?

You will still need to email them to the Court at least 10 days before the hearing. This is true both for settlement conference and for trial. Once they are received by email, Court staff can upload them to the appropriate drive for the Deputy Judge to review. 

What format should the documents take?

The best format for evidentiary documents is .pdf for text documents and .jpg or something similar for photographs. Adobe Acrobat has text recognition in the “Tools” pane. Choose the option “Searchable Image” in Output Style and select “OK”, then save once the document is fully converted.

Most scanning programs also have a text recognition feature that renders .pdfs searchable.

Joint document briefs are always welcome, properly tabbed and bookmarked in Adobe. The brief can then be marked for identification and individual tabs admitted as Exhibits as they are proven.
What about physical evidence?

Date and time stamped photographs are preferred, with the photographer attending at the trial to say what they are. At Small Claims, this is usually the party who took the photographs. No professional photographer is required unless counsel feels it necessary.

Settlements

If the case settles after you get your Notice of Trial, please tell the Court right away. This saves you a court appearance, as the case can be completed by endorsement. If there is sufficient time before the trial date, it also allows staff to put another case in the spot freed up by your settlement.

We look forward to seeing you in court. 

Janis P. Criger is the Deputy Judge for the Hamilton Small Claims Court. 
She can be reached at:
[email protected]