Bill 44 And The Introduction Of Civil Resolution Tribunals In British Columbia

Bill 44, British Columbia’s new Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, received Royal Assent this past month. The Act establishes the Civil Resolution Tribunal, a new dispute resolution and adjudicative body which has the authority to hear several types of strata property disputes and, when parties agree, some small claims disputes. The small claims matters included under the Act are presently limited to debt or damages disputes and personal property issues.

The new tribunal system is intended to encourage a faster, more collaborative, problem-solving approach to dispute resolution, rather than the traditional adversarial litigation model of the court system.

The Act provides for escalating stages of conflict resolution. In the first stage, disputing parties access an online party-to-party negotiation service provided and monitored by the tribunal. In the second stage, the tribunal is directly involved in case management and takes a mediation-type approach to solving the conflict. If mediation does not result in a settlement, the case management phase will also focus on preparing the parties for the final stage, adjudication. In this final stage, the tribunal holds a hearing which results in a binding decision.

The use of on-line communication is front and centre in all 3 conflict resolution stages, including the tribunal hearing, a first in British Columbia. Of course, more conventional communication methods, such as telephone and face-to-face, will also be available to address specific user needs or particular circumstances.

One of the contentious aspects of the Act is that it prohibits parties from being represented by lawyers during tribunal proceedings subject to certain exceptions. Such exceptions include situations where a party has impaired capacity or when it is in the interests of justice and fairness. Naturally, participants are always at liberty to consult with a lawyer at any stage in the process and it may be advisable to do so in more complex legal matters.

Another contentious aspect of this new legislation is that it cannot be used to resolve disputes with the government. This may cause some to doubt the government’s commitment towards the new adjudicative body and the tribunal’s ability to effectively solve conflicts. In turn, this may also undermine the willingness of parties to fully commit to the mediation stages of the process.

The Ministry of Justice has indicated that it will take several months before the new tribunal is up and running. It is anticipated that it will begin operations by early 2014.

For additional information/commentary on Bill 44 see:

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