The Civil Resolution Tribunal (“CRT”) is an online dispute resolution process for certain legal disputes in British Columbia. It is the first of its kind in Canada and is designed to be utilized by laypeople for the efficient resolution of legal disputes without representation by lawyers. The CRT currently has jurisdiction over all strata property disputes, motor vehicle accident disputes up to $50,000, and small claims disputes up to $5,000. In non-motor vehicle claims, the default position is that the parties cannot be represented by a lawyer, though a party can request permission to have such representation. The CRT provides a fluid process which adapts to the needs of the parties. The case manager may direct the parties and impose deadlines at his or her discretion.
Initiating a Claim, Responding, and Adding Third Parties
To initiate a claim, the claimant fills out a Dispute Notice through a guided process on the CRT website and pays a $125 filing fee. Pleadings before the CRT do not have the same importance as those in a traditional court system as the parties are not expected to have legal training.
Once the Dispute Notice has been served, the respondent has 14 days to submit a Response through the CRT’s online system. Directions are given in the dispute notice. The respondent may request additional time to respond to the Dispute Notice. Once the Response has been submitted, the parties will be contacted by the CRT.
In order to make a third-party claim, the Response must indicate that the respondent intends to bring a Third Party Claim and the respondent must complete and submit a Third Party Claim form through the CRT’s online system and pay the required fee of $125.
Negotiation and Facilitation
Prior to adjudication, the dispute must go through a “negotiation phase” during which the parties can log into the CRT system and message each other to discuss a potential settlement. The messaging system operates like a chat room. Only the parties and the CRT case manager have access to the messages. If the parties cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, the matter moves to “Facilitation”. In this phase, the CRT case manager will talk to the parties to ensure that the scope of the dispute is clear and then proceed to a facilitated mediation. The case manager may require a telephone mediation or may simply communicate with the parties individually and provide his or her views on the issues, from a neutral perspective.
Tribunal Decision Process
If the negotiation phase does not resolve the dispute, a new CRT member will be assigned to the dispute and provide the parties with a schedule for submitting evidence and submissions. Generally, the CRT will request written submissions. Occasionally the CRT will order an oral hearing over telephone or video conferencing, but this is rare. This second CRT member will issue a written decision in the dispute.
If a party disagrees with a CRT decision in a non-motor vehicle claim, the party has 28 days to submit a Notice of Objection. If a party files a Notice of Objection, the CRT member’s decision is not binding and any party can start a claim in the Provincial Court, Small Claims Division where they are entitled to a new trial on the merits as if the CRT process had not occurred. In motor vehicle claims, a party who disagrees with the CRT decision can apply for judicial review before the British Columbia Supreme Court.
In non-motor vehicle claims, if a Notice of Objection is not filed 28 days after rendering its decision, the CRT will send the parties a validated copy of the order, which can be filed with the Provincial Court and which has the same force and effect as if it was an order made by that Court. In motor vehicle claims, the order is filed with either the British Columbia Supreme Court or Provincial Court. Generally, the successful party will be entitled to their tribunal fees and reasonable dispute-related expenses. Only in exceptional circumstances will a successful party be entitled to recover any legal fees it has incurred.
The CRT was designed for lay people to resolve their disputes without the need to hire a lawyer. While it may be effective for that purpose, it poses additional difficulties for insurers and insureds who receive claims, since, in most non-motor vehicle claims, the CRT will refuse representation for the insured. This has particularly been a challenge in strata claims, where generally the CRT has required a strata member to represent the strata. As the CRT refines its processes, our hope is that they will afford insureds a right to legal representation throughout the process so they may get the full benefit of their insurance policies.