Ontario launches e-filing for small claims

About a third of Ontario small claims disputes never see a courtroom and now filers won’t even have to interact with a live person.

This week, the Ministry of the Attorney General launched an e-filing pilot project that allows small claims litigants to file their applications online and receive court-issued documents by e-mail.

British Columbia was the first province to institute an e-filing system in 2008, followed by Newfoundland in 2010. According to B.C.’s Ministry of Justice, 21,521 small claims documents were e-filed in the 2012-13 fiscal year, representing 21 per cent of all eligible documents (103,056).  

Ontario’s service is so far only available in Brampton, Oshawa, Ottawa, and Richmond Hill, but the ministry is aiming for a full province-wide rollout sometime early next year.

Laura Craig, counsel in the civil policy and programs branch of MAG, says the e-filing service is geared to handle “liquidated claims,” which are ones where there is a set amount that has been agreed upon on by both parties.

“The advantage to the online system is that the plaintiff can take steps, up to and including default judgment, without ever having to go to court.”

She adds that default judgments are “situations where claims have gone undefended and the clients received a default judgment without a court appearance.” These can involve credit card charges, overdue rent, contract payments and charges for returned cheques.

Users must first register for an online account and there is a $75 filing fee per claim, up to a maximum of 10 a year. Beyond 10, the cost is $145 each. Submitted small claims that go undisputed for 20 days can then proceed to the next phase where an award can be issued.

Last year, Ontario received 64,484 small claims applications, of which 19,726 resulted in default judgments.

With the new system in place for just a few days, ministry officials say it’s too soon to estimate how many claims could be processed virtually.

“This pilot project is the beginning of an industry modernization plan,” says Zalina Sharma, who manages court services and is overseeing the online filing project. “The ministry wants to be more innovative and create a modern and more responsive system and that’s what we’re working towards.”

Earlier this year, the AG also launched a web site that publishes daily court lists for the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Justice.

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