Access to justice compromised in New Brunswick by elimination of Small Claims Court

The decision by the New Brunswick government to eliminate the Small Claims Court has been met with criticism within the province’s legal community. Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice David Smith, in an interview with the Telegraph-Journal on Tuesday, stated that: “The fact that it is now being abolished is a regressive move by the government and is counter to what is happening across the country in every other province.”

The Small Claims Court was established in 1999 in order to address a back log of over 1, 400 unassigned cases before the Court of Queen’s Bench.Cases are decided by an adjudicator and individuals are self-represented. The decision to eliminate the Small Claims Court was made as part of the 2008-2009 budget. The approximate 2, 000 cases before the Small Claims Court will be transferred to the Court of Queen’s Bench. The transfer will, according to all account,  create a backlog for that court.

Chief Justice Smith is not the first to voice concern over how the transfer of cases will impact the efficiency of the Court of Queen’s Bench. Edward Keyes, President of the New Brunswick Branch of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA-NB),  in a News Release on March 16, 2009: “This is step backwards, one which we believe will have serious ramifications on access to justice in this province.”

In addition to adversely affecting the efficiency of the Court of Queen’s Bench, the elimination of Small Claims Court will also have an adverse economic impact. Brian Maude, a small claims adjudicator stated in an interview with the Daily Gleaner that the small-claims system, which presently brings in $65,000 in yearly revenue through filing fees, is turning a profit. The CBA-NB adds that “Any financial savings will be more than offset by the significant delays that will arise not only in small claims matters, but in all civil cases before the Court of Queen’s Bench”.

Sources:

Adam Huras, “Courts move ‘regressive'”, Telegraph Journal, March 10, 2010 

Don McPherson,  “N.B. small-claim court system works, say lawyers”, Daily Gleaner,  March 10, 2010  

CBA-NB, “CBA-NB opposes elimination of Small Claims Court”, Press Release (for immediate release March 16, 2009)


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