Sometimes matters in Small Claims court are set for a ‘Trial Conference’ after, or instead of, a Settlement Conference. This eNews explains when you might have a Trial Conference in your Small Claims case, how you should prepare, and what might happen there.
When might I have a Trial Conference?
Usually, people who are suing or being sued in Small Claims court are required to meet with a judge in a settlement conference to discuss the possibility of settling their dispute, before they are given a trial date. If you are not able to reach an agreement at a settlement conference and the time estimate for the trial of your matter is longer than a day (or a half day, depending on the court location) you may be required to return to court for a Trial Conference before a date is set for the trial. The purpose of the Trial Conference is to ensure that everyone is prepared for the trial.
Trial conferences are used in one other situation. Since June 1, 2017, when people with a claim under $5001 have been through the Civil Resolution Tribunal procedures, including facilitated dispute resolution, and a dissatisfied party files a Notice of Objection bringing the matter to Small Claims court, they are given a Trial Conference in Small Claims court. A settlement conference is considered unnecessary because efforts to resolve the dispute in the Civil Resolution Tribunal were not successful.
How do I prepare?
Either a Settlement Conference judge or the court registry will notify you if you must attend a Trial Conference. If the court registry sets a Trial Conference, you will be sent a Notice of Trial Conference. Once you’ve been notified, you must attend. If you don’t attend the conference, then the judge may dismiss your claim if you are a claimant, or make a payment order against you if you are a defendant. If you cannot attend a scheduled Trial Conference you will need to apply to the court in advance to reschedule the Trial Conference.
The Small Claims Rules (Rules 1.1. and 7.5) set out how you must prepare for a Trial Conference. At least 14 days before the Trial Conference all parties must file a Trial Statement Form (Form 33) at the court registry and serve (deliver) a copy of their filed Trial Statement to the other party at least 7 days before the Trial Conference. (A party is a person or company suing or being sued in a lawsuit.)
What can I expect at a Trial Conference?
When you attend a Trial Conference, you will normally meet in a conference room with the other party and a judge. It’s an informal meeting, so the judge may be wearing business clothes instead of traditional court robes. If you have a lawyer, they should come with you. If a representative attends the trial conference on behalf of a party that representative must have the authority to settle the claim.
The Trial Conference judge is likely to ask what your evidence will be and how you will prove your claim or defend any claim against you. The judge will ask you how many witnesses you will be calling - they need to know this in order to estimate how long the trial will take.
At a Trial Conference the judge may make orders:
A judge at a Trial Conference may dismiss a claim, counterclaim, reply , or third party notice in certain situations. See Small Claims Rule 7.5(14). A judge may also give an opinion on the probable outcome of a trial based on the information available, but such an opinion does not bind the trial judge, who could reach a different decision after hearing all the evidence.
If the judge decides that you and the other party are not adequately prepared for a trial, they may require you to return for another Trial Conference.
a conference room
A Trial Conference is not intended to discuss settlement of your case, although the judge may agree to discuss a possible settlement in an effort to resolve your dispute. At the end of the Trial Conference, if the matter is to be set for a trial or for another Trial Conference, you will either be sent to the office of the Judicial Case Manager to set the next date or the Judicial Case Manager (JCM) will contact you at a later time about the next court date.
If your trial will take a lot of court time, you could be required to come back to court for another Trial Conference before the trial date to ensure both parties have done everything needed to prepare for trial and to deal with any pre-trial issues.
Even when you have filed a Trial Statement, you still need to bring to the trial itself three extra copies of any documents or photographs you wish the trial judge to consider as evidence. The copies should be page numbered for easier reference.