Small Claims Trials
In a Small Claims trial, each party will be called upon to present its evidence to the Court.
No doubt many of you have seen similar trials conducted on American television programs like Judge Judy or The Peoples? Court. Our trials are not conducted like these trials. In Canada, each witness (including the parties themselves) will be asked to give evidence from the witness stand under oath or affirmation.
The plaintiff will present its case first. The person representing the plaintiff will ask questions of the witness in order to establish the nature of the claim and to establish the time and place of the cause of action, as well as the damages alleged or remedy sought. An unrepresented plaintiff will have to explain in his or her own words the nature of the claim or cause of action to the judge. After each witness has testified, the opposing side will be permitted to cross examine the witness in order to clarify or verify the account. You must frame your questions to each witness in the form of a question and you should avoid argument with the witness. Once cross examination is complete, the person calling the witness may be permitted to conduct a re-direct examination and pose any questions or clarifications of the evidence arising out of the cross examination. The evidence of each witness will be heard in this way. Once all the evidence for both parties is before the Court, the parties will each have an opportunity to make their final submissions and try and convince the judge to find in his or her favour.
In a civil case, the burden is on the party making the claim to prove the case on a balance of probabilities, in other words, that the cause of action is more likely to be sustained than not. This differs from a criminal case where the case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Once the arguments are complete, the judge may render an oral decision from the bench. Alternatively, the judge may decide to reserve judgment, review the evidence and the law, and file a written judgment which will be given to the parties at a later date.
Any person dissatisfied with a judgment has a right to have the decision reviewed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The task of the judge is to be the impartial arbitrator of the dispute. We are aware that self represented litigants are not always aware of the Rules of Evidence, but the judge may intervene to offer some guidance to the parties in this respect from time to time during the trial.