In July 2016, British Columbia launched the CRT as an online dispute resolution tribunal for common areas of dispute – strata disputes (of any value), small claims matters (under $5,000), and societies/coops.
In April 2019, British Columbia added motor vehicle liability disputes and personal injuries from motor vehicle accidents (under $50,000). More areas of jurisdiction are being added around September 30, 2019, for shared accommodation, vacation rental, and transitional housing disputes.
This CRT process was initially meant to be a more informal process for the general public to have assistance resolving their minor disputes in a more simple way that going to court. The CRT has progressed beyond that scope and now a common question lawyers hear is “when is it appropriate to involve a lawyer in a CRT dispute”?
To make that decision, the party needs to consider the CRT process and determine if they are comfortable navigating it themselves.
The CRT process involves two basic steps:
First: file a claim online and attempt to negotiate a resolution with help from a CRT Case Manager.
Second: if negotiations fail, provide evidence to a CRT Member and allow them to make a binding decision that is enforceable in Court.
This process does not usually permit the disputing parties to have a lawyer formally assist, represent or speak for them without applying to get special permission.
To get special permission, it must be just and fair and the matter in dispute has to be unusual, complex or serious. In general, the participation of a lawyer for one party will not be permitted if it will put the other side at a significant disadvantage.
The CRT is designed to be used by the general public, but not everyone is comfortable with the online format of making an application, advocating for themselves in English (either written or spoken), asking questions of a witness, compiling paperwork, submitting documents electronically or explaining complicated facts. There are definitely scenarios where it would be preferable and fair for a party to retain a lawyer to assist them with the process and would benefit from that help.
The CRT jurisdiction continues to expand to greater, more serious and complex areas of dispute, examples being:
If a person is injured in a car accident, they do not usually feel well enough to complete online forms, compile evidence, and advocate for themselves. If a person’s home is damaged and they are dealing with complicated engineer reports and confusing strata bylaws, the complexity may be overwhelming and the cost of repairs is too great to risk missing an important piece of evidence. If a person is senior, speaks English as a second language, is not skilled at paperwork, or using computers they may simply just not pursue or defend themselves in a dispute and lose their right to access justice. In these serious, confusing, or complex situations, the parties in the litigation will benefit from legal advice and assistance.
There is nothing in the rules preventing a party for retaining a lawyer to assist as a ‘helper’ to a party who needs extra assistance with the process, perhaps compiling evidence, preparing documents, or writing submissions that will form the basis of the application for a binding decision.
As with all processes that involve your legal rights, it is always in your best interest to obtain legal advice. A lawyer can help you determine if you would benefit from assistance with your legal matter and give you an estimate of the cost. If the cost of legal assistance throughout is prohibitive, for a small fee a lawyer will always be able to give you some initial guidance and direct you to resources you could use as you navigate the CRT process.