By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities Blog
Updated October 15, 2015 6:45 PM
A reader from Canada (Mark Latham of votermedia.org) informed me of an innovative approach to small claims and condo (strata) dispute resolution that will be launched in British Columbia in 2016. The basic concept is that residents of the Province will be able to schedule and access guided problem assessment, resolution assistance, and professional arbitration of their disputes, all from the comfort of their own homes, using internet communication tools.
The BC government believes this new method of Civil Resolution will save participants time and travel expenses, and allow parties to resolve relatively small disputes through self-representation, without the need to obtain expensive individual legal assistance. The intended goal is to provide affordable access to fair and timely legal dispute resolution.
You can read more about the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) here:
Civil Resolution Tribunal
The CRT currently has 18 staff members, fully trained and experienced attorneys, with 5 of them specializing in strata law. Although participation in CRT will be optional for strata disputes in 2016, the intent is to make CRT mandatory by 2017. Participants have the opportunity to resolve their disputes directly with the other party prior to entering adjudication. Once an arbitrator makes a decision, it becomes binding and enforceable.
The CRT website provides an excellent overview. But I had a few additional questions, so I asked Shannon Salter, Chair of B.C. Civil Resolution Tribunal for additional information.
Below are my questions and her answers:
DG: Do both parties get to choose their adjudicator/mediator, or is one simply appointed for them (if initial steps don’t resolve the problem before this point)?
SS: As in other tribunals, the parties are not able to choose the facilitator or the adjudicator assigned to their case, as they might do if they were engaged in private mediation/arbitration. However, the tribunal will assign facilitators and adjudicators based on their areas of expertise and the operational needs of the CRT.
DG: Are decisions and summaries of CRT issues made part of the public record, or do they remain private between the parties?
SS: If the parties are able to reach an agreement during the negotiation or facilitation phases, then this agreement will remain private between the parties. However, if a CRT tribunal member is required to adjudicate the dispute, then the tribunal member’s written decision will be publicly available, just as court decisions are. These decisions will be made available in a searchable, public database, to ensure that CRT decisions are transparent to the public.
DG: With the BC provincial government be tracking the number of CRT cases and their resolutions, and reporting that to the public?
SS: The CRT will be collecting and reporting on a number of analytics, including how many cases, how long they take to resolve, their type, and how accessible the process is to the public. Under the CRT Act, I am required, as Chair, to provide an annual report to the legislature. I will also ensure this report is publicly available as well.
DG: Will there be fees involved in using CRT? If so, how much will it cost to use CRT?
SS: The fees for the CRT will be about what the Small Claims Court charges now, but there will be fee exemptions for people who have a financial hardship in paying them.