Although the current BC Small Claims Rules permit parties to make court appearances by telephone in specified situations, they are silent about proceedings being conducted using videoconferencing or audioconferencing and remote attendance in court using this technology.
Earlier this year Chief Judge Gillespie exercised authority given to her by an emergency order to issue certain procedural directions during the COVID-19 pandemic. To fill the gap in the Rules, she issued SM CL 02, a practice direction providing for remote attendance at settlement conferences and some other small claims proceedings using the Microsoft Teams videoconferencing platform, along with procedures and timelines for filing and, in some cases, serving documents.
The BC government is now amending the Small Claims Rules. Effective August 16, 2021, the changes will expand the possibilities for remote attendance at small claims proceedings to include videoconferencing and audioconferencing. This will give the Court and court participants more options for conducting and attending court proceedings. It will also reflect and support the current reality of virtual proceedings being held for some small claims matters.
The amendments include a new Form 38 – Address for Service Form that includes email as an option for delivery of some court documents. See the form at the end of the amending regulation.
Summary of amendments
The amendments to the Small Claims Rules in B.C. Reg. 191/2021 (OIC 443/2021) include:
- replacing references to “justice of the peace” with “justice” (see Introduction & Definitions)
- adding definitions of “justice”, “remotely”, “tribunal accident claim” and “virtually” (see Definitions)
- requiring parties to file and serve the new Form 38 – Address for Service Form, which provides email as an option for delivery of court documents (but not for initiating documents) (see Rules 1, 1.1, 2, 3, 5, 11, 16, 18, Schedule B)
- adding Rule 18(18) prescribing when service by email is deemed to be completed
- repealing Rule 17(16) and (16.1), and instead permitting Rule 7.3 mediations, conferences, and hearings to be conducted virtually by audioconference or videoconference and parties to attend remotely by audioconference or videoconference (instead of just telephone in limited circumstances) (see Rule 7.3, 7.5, 16, 17)
- permitting the registrar, justice, or judge who is conducting a conference or hearing virtually to adjourn the conference or hearing at any time and require participants to appear in person (see Rule 17(16))
- allowing a party or a witness to apply to a judge to attend a trial remotely, subject to the trial judge varying that order (see Rule 9)
- clarifying that an application to exempt a claim from adjudication by the Civil Resolution Tribunal also applies to tribunal motor vehicle accident claims (in addition to tribunal small claims) (see Rule 16.1).
The amended Rules should be available on the BC Laws website after August 16th.
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