Manitoba promises better access to justice by increasing limit for small claims court

By | March 14, 2019

The amount litigants can claim in Manitoba’s small claims court is about to get larger. The provincial government introduced a bill Thursday that proposes a higher $15,000 cap, rather than $10,000.

The government said the move would permit the Court of Queen’s Bench, which until now had to hear cases involving claims greater than $10,000, to concern itself with more serious issues.

“It’s about access to justice for Manitobans,” said Justice Minister Cliff Cullen afterwards. “If we increase the level, we’ll get more people involved in the small-claim process.”

The new legislation also grants Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal judges the authority to dismiss litigants who repeatedly bring forward the same, frivolous matter. The attorney general is currently the only justice official who can make this order.

Manitoba also plans to institute a retirement age of 75 for provincial judges, which is in line with justices in other courts.

List of potential judges

The legislation would also ensure a list of qualified candidates worthy of becoming Court of Queen’s bench masters — judicial officers who don’t hear criminal cases, but preside over a number of other matters — or provincial court judges is referred to when vacancies arrive.

John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, which advocates for reforms to the criminal justice system, hopes these measures will ease the backlog in the criminal system.

“Appointing judges more quickly and allowing judges to say that this case doesn’t have any merit, that prevents resources from being tied up on cases that really don’t belong,” he said.