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Judgment

When the judge makes the final decision about your case it is called the judgment. The judge may give judgment at the end of the case or the judge may reserve giving judgment. In Small Claims Court if the judge reserves judgment, the judgment will be mailed to the parties at a later date. Make sure the court has your current mailing address. In the Court of Queen’s Bench the Registrar will notify the parties or their lawyers that a decision has been made.

In Small Claims Court if a judge orders one party to pay money or take other action such as returning goods to another party, the judge may include a timetable for complying with that order. If a judgment doesn't include a timetable, any party can ask the judge to establish one. Timetables can state that the judgment must be complied with immediately or by a certain date. Where payment of money is involved, the timetable may set out a schedule for instalment payments. If these terms are not complied with the entire amount owing becomes due immediately. A party may apply to the court for a Summons to change a timetable.

In Small Claims Court each side will receive a Certificate of Judgment along with the judgment. A Certificate of Judgment will be given whether the case was settled in a case management conference or after a trial.

How Judgments are Made

In our legal system, courts (and in some situations juries) are responsible for deciding the facts of the case. To understand what happened, evidence must be presented to the court. Courts must then act as fact-finders to determine what evidence is to be believed and what it means. Once the facts are established, the courts must apply the law to the facts of the case. In doing so, courts will consider statutes, common law and precedent.

Sources of Law

Laws can originate from different sources. While statutes (federal, provincial or municipal) are written laws created by a legislative body, some law is based on accepted civil duties, such as not harming another person or their property. When there are no statutes setting out an area of the law it is largely defined by a collection of decisions made by judges. This body of law is called the common law.

Precedent and Interpreting the Law

Laws, whether in a statute or part of the common law, are subject to interpretation. If the law has been interpreted in one way by a court in a previous case this can give guidance to a court hearing another case. It can also help lawyers advise their clients what a judge is likely to decide in a similar situation. In some cases courts are bound by how other courts have interpreted a law. In our judicial system lower courts generally must follow higher court decisions.

Suppose a city wished to have a park where its citizens could spend time enjoying nature in a peaceful, safe place. To help do this the city council passed a law stating “No team sports may be played in the park.” While the law may seem clear enough at first, questions may arise in certain situations. Would the law apply to four people throwing a Frisbee, a relay team practicing for a track meet, or a group of children playing tag? It might not be easy to decide. If there was an earlier case in which a judge had ruled that young children’s informal games are not “team sports,” that decision would be a precedent. If the decision was of a higher court the court would be bound by the precedent. Otherwise the decision would simply offer guidance.

Burden of Proof

After hearing the evidence the court makes findings about the facts of the case. It is common for a court to hear conflicting versions of what happened. There are rules that form the basis for a court determining the facts of the case.

In civil cases the plaintiff must prove their case on what is called a balance of probabilities. This means that they must satisfy the court that it is more likely than not that their version of what happened is true.

In deciding whether a party has proved their claim on a balance of probabilities the judge will consider and weigh all of the admitted evidence. This does not mean that a judge must accept all of your evidence or that of the other party. The judge may not accept some or all of the evidence presented by a witness or in a document, for a variety of reasons, including that...

  • a witness may not be believed
  • a document may not be clear
  • the evidence may not be sufficiently reliable or clear

Costs

Costs are money the judge orders one party to pay the other. Costs are typically awarded at the conclusion of the trial to the successful party but can be awarded to any party. In some circumstances they can be awarded before the case is concluded. For example in Small Claims Court costs can be awarded any time against a party that without reasonable excuse fails to attend or prepare for any stage of the proceeding or any party that purposely delays the proceeding to increase the other party’s costs.

In Small Claims Court costs can be awarded for things like filing fees, costs of serving documents or witness fees. Parties must bring receipts to prove the amounts of these costs. Costs cannot be awarded for lawyer-related expenses in Small Claims. As well as these costs the judge can order one party to pay the other party additional costs after taking into account:

  • access to justice
  • fairness to the parties
  • whether or not the defendant or third party prepared a reply
  • any offer to settle made by a party
  • the conduct of the parties
  • the failure of a party to comply with an order of a judge
  • any other factor that the judge considers appropriate

The amount that can be awarded based on these factors cannot be more than the greater of $200 or 10% of the amount the successful party was awarded.

In the Court of Queen’s Bench costs can be determined by the Tariff of Costs and awarded to the successful party but judges also have the discretion to order costs in a different amount and/or to another party. When deciding on costs the court can consider:

  • which party was successful or partially successful
  • the amounts claimed and the amounts recovered
  • the importance of the issues
  • how complex the case was
  • any written offer to settle or any written offer to contribute
  • whether the conduct of any party tended to shorten or to unnecessarily lengthen the case
  • a party’s denial of or refusal to admit anything that should have been admitted
  • whether any step in the proceeding was improper, vexatious or unnecessary
  • whether any step in the proceeding was taken through negligence, mistake or excessive caution
  • whether a party started separate cases for claims that should have been made in one case or separated his or her defence from that of another party when this was not necessary
  • any other matter it considers relevant

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