The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal: Legal Services for the 21st Century?

Lawyer Erin Brandt (nee Kizell), Contributor. 

Traditional means for resolving legal disputes – i.e. the civil courts – can be slow, complicated, and expensive. crt

Over time, dispute resolution “alternatives” such as arbitration and mediation have emerged in response to these obstacles. The courts themselves have also introduced different ways for parties to try and resolve their differences (e.g., settlement conferences) without spending the time and money required for a full-blown trial.

Such solutions have gone some way to lessening the burdens of litigation. However, access to legal services remains a significant problem in British Columbia, and not just because of the expense involved. Our court rules and processes can be cumbersome and, as a whole, tend to prolong rather than expedite the litigation process.

A recent initiative of the BC government seems designed to change this.

Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT)

In 2012, the provincial government passed the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, which establishes the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) and sets out its jurisdiction to deal with strata property and small claims disputes.

This excerpt from the CRT’s website (found here) offers a good summary of the CRT’s vision and objectives:

The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) is Canada’s first online tribunal for resolving strata and small claims disputes. Right now, the CRT is accepting strata property disputes for intake. Early next year, it will begin to accept small claims disputes as well. It offers new ways to resolve your legal issues in a timely and cost-effective manner. The CRT encourages a collaborative, problem-solving approach to dispute resolution, rather than the traditional courtroom model. The CRT aims [to] provide timely access to justice, built around your life and your needs. It does this by providing legal information, self-help tools, and dispute resolution services to help solve your problem, as early as possible.

Will the CRT cure (some of?) the ills of our current civil justice system? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, we wanted to highlight some of the CRT’s key features and offer our own thoughts on possible “pros and cons” of this new legal forum, particularly in the employment law context.

CRT: Key Features

The CRT will:

  • Operate primarily as an online tribunal
  • Be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Be accessible by computer or mobile device
  • Encourage users to provide feedback and comments to help the government improve the system and its resources
  • Have authority to handle small claims up to $25,000 (including contract, debt, and personal injury) as well as strata property claims. (Note: We’ve heard talk that this limit may increase to $50,000 sooner rather than later.)
  • Eventually be mandatory for claims that fall within its jurisdiction (projected to start in 2017)

Framework for a Case under the CRT

A case heard by the CRT will follow this general framework:

1. Information, problem diagnosis, self-help.

  • CRT will provide specialized content derived from experts in various fields, structured in a computer-readable format, and delivered in a user-friendly format via an intelligent questionnaire style interface.
  • Individuals will be directed to templates, calculators and checklists to help them resolve their dispute.

2. Monitored party-to-party negotiation

  • By email or phone.
  • Parties will exchange offers and demands and share information such as electronic copies of documents or images.

3. Case management: facilitated ADR and hearing preparation

  • A case manager will conduct a process similar to mediation using an online platform, including teleconferences, video conferences, or in-person meetings.
  • The case manager will help the parties create, collect, and organize the information necessary for a hearing.

4. Adjudication

  • Hearings will be conducted by teleconference, video conference or in person.
  • The CRT’s decision is binding, and can be enforced in the BC Provincial Court or Supreme Court.

5. Post-resolution support

What this entails is not yet clear…

6. Appeal

Parties can appeal a final decision of the CRT to BC Provincial or Supreme court, where the case will be heard “fresh”.

pros and cons
Pros and Cons

While it’s undoubtedly a bit premature to evaluate the CRT as an alternative dispute resolution method, we couldn’t resist sharing our initial thoughts on the pros and cons of this new regime:

 

Pros

Here’s what looks promising about the CRT:

  • It’s accessible outside of regular business hours.
  • It offers the convenience of modern technologies.
  • It provides the ability to resolve strata disputes outside of BC Supreme Court.

From an employment law perspective, the CRT would appear to be an appropriate forum for a dismissed employee with a relatively straightforward claim for a few months of severance. For more complicated cases involving allegations of constructive dismissal or just cause, however, we’d likely recommend that an employee client proceed through traditional litigation. See below under Cons for some caveats…

Cons

Here are some of our reservations about the CRT:

  • Given its broad scope when compared to other specialized tribunals such as the Employment Standards Branch and Human Rights Tribunal, we wonder whether CRT adjudicators will have the specialized knowledge necessary to adjudicate claims without the assistance of lawyers?
  • For litigants who actually want to slow the dispute resolution process down (and there are some!), the CRT will not be a desirable venue. Having said that, since any CRT decision can be appealed to Provincial or Supreme Court and heard anew, the possibility exists that this system will extend, rather than shorten, the court process.

In the employment context, given the right to appeal and have a whole new trial of the matter in court, we would likely be hesitant to suggest the CRT for employees wishing to bring a wrongful dismissal action except, again, in very straightforward cases. Since employers typically have the “deeper pockets”, we expect that many employers will be prepared to appeal a CRT decision that is not to their liking. As such, “quicker and cheaper” may be an empty promise.

For more information and CRT resources, visit the CRT website here.


NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on the Kent Employment Law website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action, based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. One of our lawyers would be pleased to discuss any specific legal concerns you may have.

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