Just over a month ago, Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley made an announcement regarding changes to the Ontario Civil and Small Claims Court systems. The changes, made to improve accessibility in the courts, are based on former Associate Chief Justice Coulter Osborne's 81 recommendations put forward last November, 2007.

I believe the following changes will have the greatest impact on employment law cases:

Raising the Limits on General Damages – The limit for a claim in the Small Claims Court will be raised from $10,000 to $25,000.  Many wrongful dismissal cases fall within this range and accordingly, many will be heard at the small claims court – where trials are more likely than under the ordinary rules.   

Raising the Simplified Procedure Limit on Damages – Currently, the limit to have claims tried under the Rules of Simplified Procedure is $50,000. This limit will be increased to $100,000. This is excellent news for employment claimants as the simplified rules provides a more cost-effective mechanism of proceeding with their claim.   

Limiting Examinations to One Day – Often, lengthy examinations are no benefit to the parties involved. Not only does it drag on the matter, it also increases legal fees for the parties involved. By limiting the time for examinations, the court is forcing lawyers to be more efficient with their questioning.

Litigation Management – Under the current system, the court imposes a mandatory time management system. In the new regime, the parties involved will have a greater responsibility for moving the matter forward in a timely fashion. The new rule however, will not apply to claims made in Toronto, Ottawa, and Windsor.  

Greater Proportionality in Fees – The new changes will encourage judges to award costs for legal fees on a basis relative to the claim. This new rule is meant to favor claimants who have low value claims. Unfortunately, I see a less desirable outcome. One which lawyers, upon assessing the work necessary to bring a matter forward, may be hesitant to work on a file because the work involved will not be relative to the cost of the claim.

Modified Cost Rules for Summary Judgements -Previously, if a party brought forward a motion for summary judgment and lost, they were responsible for the costs of the responding party.  As the report said, this leads to a disincentive for litigants to bring forward such a motion. After the rule is implemented, judges will have greater discretion when awarding costs stemming from the same type of motion which will rely more on the appropriateness for summary judgment instead of the outcome.

For more information on the upcoming changes, see the Toronto Star Article or the Government of Ontario's news release on same.

Daniel A. Lublin is a Toronto Employment Lawyer specializing in the law of wrongful and constructive dismissal. He can be reached at dan@toronto-employmentlawyer.com.

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