Recently we took on two Small Claims Court actions for good clients. In both cases we acted for the plaintiff.
Anyone who has commenced a Small Claims Court proceeding knows that the Small Claims Court Rules provide that the plaintiff is generally required to commence the action in the jurisdiction where the defendant lives or carries on business. In both cases our client operated from Toronto. In both cases, we had to commence the action in L’Orignal, Ontario as a result of that being where the defendant carried on business.
For those of you who don’t know, L’Orignal is about 500km East of Toronto, right on the Ottawa River and the Quebec border. Map Quest tells me it’s about a 10 hour round trip drive from my office, and that’s without any traffic.
When the first proceeding came up for a Settlement Conference we requested that the matter be conducted by telephone conference. We thought that this was a logical request given that it was a 1000km round trip for both the client and us to attend. Believe it or not, there is actually a form specifically for this purpose, Form 1B. We have made similar requests in the past for places like Guelph and Milton, and they have been routinely granted without issue.
To my surprise, when the request was returned it was denied. No reasons were given as to why the request was denied.
Thankfully the first case settled on its own prior to the Settlement Conference and no one needed to attend.
Fast forward to the second case which just came up for a Settlement Conference. Once again we put in the request for a telephone conference and once again the request was rejected with no reasons given.
I will concede that two cases form a small sample size, however in my view the two cases are not coincidences and I suspect that other similar requests at this courthouse have been, and will be, rejected.
The Small Claims Court is supposed to be the “people’s court”. It is supposed to be easily accessible and easy to use. On top of this we currently have an access to justice problem in this province. Everyone from the Chief Justice on down will tell you that our civil court system is too expensive, too cumbersome and too out dated.
While I appreciate that where possible it is always better to have both parties in the same room, I cannot for the life of me figure out how requiring our client and their counsel to travel 10 hours round trip for a 45 minute settlement meeting on a claim worth less than $25,000 (much less in one instance), was necessary or reasonable, especially when the plaintiff was forced into this particular jurisdiction.
I suppose that because no reasons were given for the refusal I will never figure it out.