Civil Cases

Solving legal problems without going to court

It is not always necessary for a judge in court to settle a legal dispute. Disputes can often be settled with or without the help of lawyers and without going to court. Settling a case is usually cheaper and faster than going to court. It is also a good choice because the parties can reach an agreement that they both like.

People can negotiate (discuss) everything and make a decision that they are both happy with. Or, a lawyer can help with the negotiation. Another choice is to hire a mediator (an independent person) who will help the parties come to an agreement.

If the parties cannot solve their own legal problems, they might have to go to court. The judge will make a decision in their case and they may not be happy with the result. That is why it is a good idea to try to reach an agreement with the other person instead of going to court.

Going to court

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer about the case.

A lawyer can explain the law and the court system.

These are the usual steps in a civil trial:

  1. File documents in court, along with a filing fee. The forms describe what the case is about. If one of the parties cannot afford to pay the court filing fees, he or she can apply to have them removed.
  2. Serve (deliver personally) the forms to the other party.
  3. If the case is in Provincial Court, the court will have a settlement meeting to help settle the case. (Read more about this here). If it doesn’t settle, the case will be scheduled for trial.
  4. If the case is in Supreme Court, one of the parties might go to court before trial to ask for a certain order (like for the other party to deliver some important documents).
  5. If the case is in Supreme Court (learn more about civil cases in  Supreme Court).
  6. At the trial, the parties will:
    • Swear or affirm (promise) to tell the truth
    • Tell the judge the facts about their cases
    • Give the judge documents and other evidence that relate to their cases
    • Bring witnesses to give evidence that supports their cases
    • Ask the other party and witnesses questions about the dispute
    • Answer questions that the other party asks
    • Tell the judge about the law that supports their cases
  7. The judge will make an order at the end of the trial. The person who won the case will have to “enforce the judgment”, which means he or she has to get the other person to pay. The court does not collect the money for the person who wins the trial.
  8. If the person who loses the trial cannot pay the judgment, the winning party can take steps like take money from that person’s pay cheque every month.
  9. The person who loses a case in the Supreme Court is usually ordered to pay “costs”. This means that he or she must pay money to the winner to cover part of their cost of taking the case to court.
  10. The person who loses the case may decide to appeal the judge’s decision to the BC Court of Appeal. This is a complicated and expensive step to take. A lawyer can give advice on this step before it is taken.

Jury trials

A jury in a civil trial is a group of 6 Canadian citizens who are chosen (at random from the voters’ list) to hear the trial with a judge. After both parties have finished arguing their positions, the judge tells the jury about the law that applies to the case. Then the jury meets in a separate room in the courthouse to decide whether the plaintiff has proven the case on a balance of probabilities. Five of the 6 jury members have to agree on their decision. If not, there will be another trial, with a new jury.

You will often see jury trials on television. In reality, most civil cases are decided by a judge alone.

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