PARALEGAL LITIGATION USERS GROUP 5
THE GUIDE TO CIVIL LITIGATION FOR
SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
Table of Contents i. What is This Guide All About? i
ii. Introduction ii
1. Before You Start 1
2. Telling My Story (Pleadings) 5
a. Notice of Civil Claim 7
b. Response to Civil Claim 18
c. Amendment to Pleadings 24
d. Application to Waive Fees 26
3. Finding the Truth 37
a. List of Documents 38
b. Examinations for Discovery 43
c. Case Planning Conferences 53
4. What Are My Other Choices? 69
a. Fast-Track 69
b. Summary Trial 73
5. Moving My Action Forward 86
a. Applications 87
b. Trial Management Conferences 107
6. What I Should Know About Trials 118
7. What To Do After Settlement or Trial Judgment 135
a. Settlement 135
b. After the Trial 136
c. Settlement Offers 158
8. Appendix A: Glossary 163
9. Appendix B: Cultural Diversity and the Canadian Legal Process 174
10. Appendix C: Calculating Time 176
11. Appendix D: Further Resources and References 178
12. Appendix E: Jurisdiction Guide: Judge or Master 180
13. Appendix F: Self-Represented Litigants SCBC Civil Action Checklist 182
What is this guide all about? 7:15 PM
Access to Information is Access to Justice
The Amici Curiae Pro Bono Paralegal Program is a clinic staffed with volunteer paralegals to assist self-represented litigants complete civil court forms. A group of these paralegals banded together and we are the authors of this guide. For the last three and a half years, every Wednesday at 7:15 pm, the Amici Curiae Paralegals saw the level of anxiety of the self-represented litigants rise. With 15 minutes left in their session, with their civil Court form awaiting the duty counsel's review, they cannot help but think: now what? Soon enough, with their approved document in hand, their paralegal instructs them: provide three copies to the registry for them to stamp, the registry will keep one copy, you keep one copy, and serve one to the other party. Do this. Do that. It has been a long evening, and with the oral instructions coming fast, there is hardly enough time to remember everything. Some self-represented litigants can be seen furiously scribbling notes. Never mind trying to understand what is going on: at the back of their mind, they know they have a bigger problem. Now what? they ask silently. Afraid. Bewildered. Anxious. We could see the cumulative hurdles and resulting frustrations that our self-represented litigant clients were bearing. So we decided to form a special Amici Curiae group: the Paralegal Litigation Users Group 5 (PLUG 5), to improve access to justice by providing access to information. PLUG 5's original goal was modest, but by no means simple: to provide our clients with tips on how to prepare and conduct themselves accordingly when they appear in front of a Judge, Master or Registrar; and to create checklists and flowcharts to manage their Court case. What was supposed to be a few sheets turned into a 200-page guide on procedures because we wanted to give the Amici Curiae clients a document that was comprehensive and understandable. Legal principles and terms, which the legal profession can take for granted, had to be identified and re-cast in plain language for the benefit of the Amici Curiae clients. The guide also addresses concepts that will help the SRL: why it is important to think about costs; the many ways to save money; what the implications of offers to settle are; why signing Orders is beneficial to them; and why they should consider bringing a Mckenzie Friend along to sit with them. PLUG 5 also did something innovative - they worked closely with Ms. Jennifer Muller, a self-represented litigant, who reviewed the drafts and provided us with her perspective. And it is gratifying to see how Amici Curiae, which is Latin for friends of the Court, continues to acquire more friends. Judges from the Provincial Court of British Columbia; Justices, Masters, Registrars, Deputy District Registrars from the Supreme Court of BC; lawyers (one of whom used to be a self-represented litigant) have all had a hand in clarifying technical issues, suggesting novel approaches, sharing their perspectives and most importantly, providing moral support. On behalf of the self-represented litigants that we serve, thank you.
To the self-represented litigant, this guide was written for you. It is designed to simplify court procedures in your quest for a legal solution.
Social justice means the law applies equally to all persons. In the judicial system, you should have the same opportunity to present a legal claim as a person who can afford a lawyers services. However, more often than not, those who cannot afford a lawyer already feel defeated and the gap between the haves and the have-nots becomes wider and wider.
This project attempts to bridge the widening gap by offering a practical, hands-on effort; an effort which involved contributions from all levels of process and perspective. From its inception in response to an Amici Curiae lecture given by the Honourable Mr. Justice Walker, to numerous paralegals from multiple areas of law, to other self-represented litigants who have battled a Court action, the completed project hopes to provide a comprehensive and realistic picture of how to navigate through a Court file. It highlights what to consider and practical tips which would otherwise be information exclusive to the legal professionals and their experiences.
While the contributors of the project are not able to provide legal advice, the content of the guide focuses specifically on procedure: how the process works, why certain procedures are carried out, what the effect of each turn in the case can mean, how to fill out the proper forms, examples of how much filing fees are, what other options are available, and useful appendices that can assist for further explanation or references. The authors have specifically designed the content to bear in mind several key issues:
1. The guide itself may, in the future, become accessible as an online tool, and so the hyperlinks and sectioning of information can be condensed for readers who have access to Internet resources. The guide envisions being adapted for a wide-reaching audience; and
2. Each section explains a specific portion of the civil litigation process. The idea is that you would be able to simply pull out the section about your current place within the litigation, for example, preparing for and attending at discoveries, case planning conferences, trials, etc. In this way, the guide can be read as a whole for the broad picture, or simply referred to on an as-needed basis. This would be particularly useful for organizations that help self-represented litigants, such as the Amici Curiae.
Though acutely aware that a project with a scope as large as this will not have the capacity to imagine all situations, this guide is attempting to at least be a resource that can be understood by those without any legal training. As there is an overwhelming amount of people who have no other option than to represent themselves, our offering of procedural explanations and definitions of legalese can optimistically continue the dialogue and efforts of promoting access to justice and maintaining an equal approach to our legal system.
This work by the paralegals is part of their commitment to increasing access to justice.
1 Law Courts Center Amici Curiae Pro Bono Paralegal Programme 2014
1. BEFORE YOU START
Potential Costs of Litigation With every litigation there is always the risk that you could end up paying large sums of money. British Columbia has a loser pays system, which means that the losing party is usually ordered to pay costs to the winning party, aside from your time and your own expenses. Costs are sums of money ordered by the Court to compensate the winning party the expense of litigating the action. Claiming sympathetic circumstances or financial hardship will not help a losing party to avoid paying costs. There are ways to enforce a Court Order, including garnishing someones wages to recover a debt.
You may want to consider alternative ways to resolve your dispute to reduce the costs. Up until the first day of trial, either party may make an offer to settle the matter. Please refer to section 8(a) on Settlement Offers.
Which Court should be used? Small Claims Court vs. Supreme Court of British Columbia
In order to determine in which Court you should start your action, consider these factors:
Provincial Court (Small Claims) Supreme Court Filing Fees
The Notice of Claim starts the action and has a filing fee of either $100 or $156 (subject to the claim amount). The Reply to Claim responds to the claim and has a filing fee of either $26 or $50 (subject to the claim amount).
The Notice of Civil Claim starts the action and has a filing fee of $200. The Response to Civil Claim responds to the claim and has a filing fee of $25.
The maximum you can recover from the Defendant(s) is $25,000.
Jurisdiction Only has jurisdiction over claims for: debt or damages, recovery of personal
property, specific performance of an
agreement relating to personal property or services, or