You filed a Notice of Claim (if you’re suing someone) or a Reply (if you’re being sued) in Small Claims Court and now you’ve received a notice that you have to attend a Settlement Conference at the courthouse. What happens at a Provincial Court Settlement Conference? How should you prepare?
What to expect
A Settlement Conference is a chance for you and the other party or parties in a lawsuit to meet with a judge to discuss your case and see whether it’s possible to settle your dispute without having a trial. It’s a less formal proceeding than a trial - you will likely sit around a round table in a small conference room, not a traditional courtroom, and the judge will probably be wearing business clothes rather than court robes. You can bring a lawyer if you have one, but it’s not necessary.
A settlement conference room
The judge may begin with introductions and an explanation of how they will conduct the conference. They may ask each party, beginning with the Claimant, to briefly explain the problem that brings them to Court. This is an opportunity to give a short summary or overview of the facts, not a long, detailed recitation of all your evidence. The judge may ask both parties questions so they can understand the legal issues and each party’s goals. Then the judge may spend some time helping you discuss settlement possibilities. If you and the other party are able to agree on a way to resolve the lawsuit, the judge can record your settlement or make the orders you agree on, and put an end to the lawsuit.
If it seems that the parties are unlikely to agree on a way to resolve the dispute, the judge may begin to discuss the type of evidence each party would need to prove their case. The judge can make orders for the parties to exchange copies of documents or other evidence, and make other procedural orders. The judge will likely ask how many witnesses you are planning to bring to court for the trial. Knowing this helps the judge estimate the amount of court time needed for your trial. If the time estimate is one day or longer (a half day in some courthouses), you will be required to return to court for a Trial Preparation Conference to ensure you are ready for trial before you are given a trial date. If your trial will be shorter, you may be given a trial date before leaving the courthouse, or you may receive a notice of your trial date in the mail.
How to prepare
It is a very good idea to talk to a lawyer about your case before the settlement conference. A lawyer can assess your chances of success if your case goes to trial, tell you about additional evidence you will need, and suggest reasonable possibilities for settlement. See the Clicklaw Helpmap for help finding a lawyer or legal advice. It includes free or low cost options.
The more preparation you do before the settlement conference the better. Gather your facts and think about how you could prove them. You must bring to the settlement conference all the documents, reports and photographs that are relevant to the dispute. Make copies of them to show the judge and give to the other party. Then think about what you really want from the case, what the other party may want, and whether there are any solutions that might satisfy you both.
Use these very helpful guides to preparing for Settlement Conferences:
Getting Ready for court – a BC Ministry of Justice Small Claims procedural guide
Organizing documents for Small Claims Court – tips on preparing documents for settlement conferences, trial preparation conferences and trials
Small Claims BC – Settlement Conferences – Justice Education Society video
In the future
Eventually, Small Claims disputes up to $25,000 are expected to be dealt with by the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal, Canada’s first online tribunal, but it is not currently clear exactly when that transition will be made. In the meantime, the Provincial Court will continue to handle Small Claims matters.
An alternative to court
When it assumes jurisdiction for Small Claims matters, the Civil Resolution Tribunal will offer an online negotiation service to help resolve disputes. However, until its negotiation service is operating, you can try the free, secure, online negotiation service offered at Small Claims BC before filing a claim in Small Claims Court. If you can’t settle your claim that way you can still go to court.