The Small Claims Court is much less formal than our other courts and the people appearing there need not be represented by a lawyer. The Court can now hear claims involving amounts up to $25,000.00. Materials on how to conduct a case in Small Claims Court are available from the Small Claims Court office. The following are some handy tips:
- In drafting the statement of claim make sure that you are suing the right party. If you dealt with a limited company, sue the limited company - not the individual you dealt with. If you were dealing with a partnership or sole proprietorship, also provide, if you can, the names of the partners or sole proprietor in the statement of claim. Much of this information is available from the office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies by telephoning 424-7770.
- If you have any witnesses that are required to testify on your behalf, you should subpoena them in advance of the Small Claims Court hearing to ensure their attendance. Subpoena forms are available from the office issuing the claim or you may wish to obtain the services of a lawyer in this regard.
- Any exhibits you may have, i.e. receipts, contracts, photographs, etc., should be copied in order for the adjudicator, yourself, and the party on the other side can each have a copy during the hearing.
- Make sure you arrive at the Court with proof of service of your claim. You are required to serve your claim on the Defendant by personal service, and must show proof of personal service to the court when you arrive for the hearing. Personal service can be accomplished by either serving the document on the Defendant yourself or you can hire a Bailiff to serve the Notice of Claim for you. You will be required to pay a Bailiff for his/her services. A normal charge for service in the Halifax/Dartmouth area is approximately $75.00 for Bailiff services (plus HST). When serving a Defendant with your Notice of Claim you must also provide the Defendant with the form for filing a Defence. Both the Notice of Claim (Form 1) and the form for filing a Defence (Form 2) can be obtained from the Small Claims Court.
- Refer to the "judge" as "Mr." or "Madam Adjudicator" as the case may be.
- Whenever referring to a document, give the original of the document to the court clerk so that the adjudicator may refer to it, and use a copy for yourself and the witness.
- During the hearing the claimant calls their witnesses first and has the right to ask them questions to help prove their case. The defendant has the right to cross-examine (question) each of the claimant's witnesses before the claimant calls another witness. The claimant may take the oath and give evidence directly in which case the defendant has the right to cross-examine the claimant. After this, the defendant has the right to call their witnesses and the claimant has the right to cross-examine them as previously indicated. If the defendant's witnesses have raised some unexpected point(s) which was not covered by the claimant's witnesses the claimant may then call witnesses to briefly address only that point or points. After this, the defendant may sum up their case/argument for the adjudicator. Finally, the claimant may sum up their case/argument for the adjudicator.
- In arguing your case try to be succinct and do not argue with witnesses on the stand. Attempt to phrase your cross-examination questions such that the witness must give a "yes" or "no" answer. Prepare your questions prior to the hearing in order that you may anticipate answers.
- If you actually saw or heard an event yourself, you can testify to that. However, if someone else witnessed it and told you about it, you are not normally allowed to give evidence of the event in a court of law as your testimony would be based on hearsay. However, in Small Claims Court some hearsay evidence may be allowed and may be used by your opponent against you and vice versa.
- The Small Claims Court limits your claim to $25,000.00, including a maximum of $100.00 general damages. General damages include such things as pain and suffering, inconvenience, etc. Be prepared to prove the amount of your loss with testimony, receipts, etc.
- A person making a claim in the Small Claims Court is not entitled to solicitor's fees. The only costs which a claimant is entitled to are out-of-pocket expenses. At the end of your case, you should be prepared to prove to the adjudicator the money you have spent to issue the claim (filing fees), subpoena witnesses, serve documents, photocopy exhibits, registering judgments, etc.
- If your matter is to be contested, it will be heard at the end of the Small Claims Court session, and therefore both you and your witnesses should be prepared to spend as much as three to four hours waiting for your case to be heard.
- If your matter is contested, be prepared for the adjudicator to reserve his or her decision. In such cases, you will be informed of the decision by mail some weeks after your case has been heard.
- Once you have the decision you should write to the clerk of the Small Claims Court to request that the order of the adjudicator be made an order of the Supreme Court and that an execution order and judgment be prepared so that it can be enforced. You should then seek the services of a lawyer to ensure that these documents are properly registered and served.
- If you wish to appeal the decision, you should contact your lawyer forthwith as the appeal must be filed within 30 days of the adjudicator's decision. The appeal is heard in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court.
- If you are sued and you don't show up for the hearing, the adjudicator may rule against you in your absence. In cases where a defendant has not responded to your claim by filing a defence, you may request expedited judgment before the date set for hearing. In these cases you must still satisfy the adjudicator as to service and the merits of your claim but this can now be done in advance of the hearing date set. This procedure is available from the Small Claims Court office. A claimant who has proved his claim may through an execution order garnish the defendant's wages, seize bank accounts, and even arrange for the sale of certain of the defendant's property. A judgement, once registered at the Registry of Deeds, will affect the defendant's ability to mortgage, buy, or sell property until the judgment is paid off.
- The office of the Clerk of the Small Claims Court for Halifax County is located in the Provincial Court Building, 5250 Spring Garden Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia (424-8722).
This information has been provided for general reference only. For advice on an actual matter, you should consult a lawyer. To contact a member of our team call us at 902-469-9500 or 1-866-339-3400 or contact us online to make an appointment.