A settlement conference provides both parties in a legal dispute with the opportunity to sit with a BC Provincial Court judge to explore ways to settle their case without going to trial.
Purposes for a settlement conference:
- To settle the case and
- To help you better prepare for trial if there is no settlement
Settlement conferences are mandatory for most cases started by a Notice of Claim. However, there are some types of cases that will go straight to trial conference or trial, including certain:
- Motor vehicle matters involving only property damage issues
- Claims originating in the Civil Resolution Tribunal
- Proceeding as a Simplified Trial
- Proceeding as a Summary Trial
Court staff set a time for the settlement conference and will send you notice of the date and time. The registrar must serve all parties with notice at least 28 days before the settlement conference. They usually take place at a meeting room in the courthouse and are closed to the public. Typically, the conference will last from 30 minutes to an hour.
About two-thirds of all Small Claims cases are resolved at a settlement conference, without going to trial. It is important to be well prepared for a settlement conference. Remember that going to trial is time consuming and stressful.
What to Expect
Settlement conferences will usually take place using Microsoft (MS) Teams audio conference or video conference or by telephone, unless a judge or judicial justice otherwise orders or directs. If you need an alternate method of attendance you must make an application to a Registrar pursuant to Rule 16(2)(c.1). The judge moderates the conference and will likely wear business attire, rather than robes. The judge will say a few words and ask all the parties to give brief summaries of their cases. The judge will then lead all the parties in a discussion on what, if anything, you can agree on.
None of the conversations at the settlement conference can be used at trial. The conference provides an opportunity for discussion that is “without prejudice and off the record”.
The settlement conference judge can give you a non-binding assessment of your chances at trial. This assessment may be useful in deciding to settle. The judge may also suggest ways of resolving the dispute without going to trial. The settlement conference judge will not be your trial judge.
At the conference, the judge can:
- Mediate any disputed issues and decide on any issues that do not require evidence
- Order one or both parties to produce documents, such as agreements, or financial records
- Decide on any issues that do not require evidence
- Dismiss a party’s claim, counterclaim, reply, or third party notice if it is determined to be without reasonable grounds
- Set a trial date, and discuss evidence requirements and trial procedures if a trial is necessary
- Make any other order required for the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of the claim
- If both parties agree about something, the judge can make an order that details the terms of the agreement
- If the claim is regarding property damage, the judge can order the claimant to allow a person chosen by the defendant to examine the damaged property
- Make an order that a trial is attended by telephone, video conference, or other means of electronic communication.
How to Prepare
Being well prepared for your settlement conference is very important. Do your Legal Research and Get Legal Advice beforehand so you understand the strength of your case. Consider the merits of the case against you. It is a good idea to think about a solution that will work for both of you. Compromise might be necessary to save time and money.
In most Small Claims Court cases, the claimant and the defendant present their own case, without a lawyer. This means that you both have to prepare for the settlement conference. If you cause unnecessary delays you could face financial penalties.
Be sure to:
- Prepare a clear explanation of the dispute
- Submit all relevant documents and reports to the registry at least 14 days before the settlement conference and serve them to the other parties at least 7 days before the settlement conference.
- Be prepared to summarize the evidence that your witnesses will provide at trial
- Have the authority to settle
- Be prepared to go ahead with the conference
Outcomes of a Settlement Conference
If the settlement conference goes well, the parties agree to resolve their case without going to trial. In these circumstances, a judge would make an order that reflects the agreed-upon decision. You file this order and that would be the end of the case.
In a case with multiple issues, it is possible that you could come to agreement on some of them but not others. In that case, the judge will make an order with respect to only the issues you agreed upon. You will still proceed to trial on the outstanding issues.
If you are not able to settle your case, the settlement conference judge may begin to discuss the type of evidence each party would need to prove their case. The judge can make orders for the parties to exchange copies of documents or other evidence, and make other procedural orders such as attending a Trial Conference.
Based on your case and the number of witnesses that will appear, the judge will estimate the amount of court time needed for your trial. If the time estimate is one day or longer (a half day in some courthouses) you may need to attend a Trial Conference. If your trial will be shorter, you may be given a trial date before leaving the courthouse, or you may receive a notice of your trial date in the mail.
Since you were unable to settle, you should begin to prepare for trial. Review information on this website under Trial Process and use the Trial Preparation Checklist below.
Changing the Date
If you cannot attend the settlement conference you may request to change the date.
- By Consent- ask the other party to agree in writing to the change. If they agree, file a Consent Order at the registry
- By Application - If you are unable to reach an agreement, file an Application to the Registrar at least seven days before the date of the settlement conference. The application must explain the reason you want to change the date and that you asked the other party to consent
If the application is granted, a new date will be set for your settlement conference.
If You Don’t Go
The judge can make a payment order or other appropriate order against either party.
If you are the claimant and you don’t show up, your claim may be dismissed.