Precedent Setting Cases

Small Claims Court decisions are not precedent setting. There is no lower Court upon which they would be binding. They have value from the perspective that someone else has looked at the same matter before. In effect, they are there for guidance.

Above that, the Superior Court of Justice has effectively two divisions which hear appeals, one Judge in the Divisional Court (that would be for Small Claims Court appeals) and three Judges in the Court of Appeal (all appeals in Ontario and it is the highest Court in Ontario).

A decision of a higher Court is BINDING upon every lower Court. So, either the facts or the law must be distinguished in some way by a lower Court, or that Court is stuck with the higher Court’s decision, whether they like it or not.

The next step is the Supreme Court of Canada. You first have to apply for leave to appeal, that will be in front of one Judge or up to three Judges. If the leave application is successful then case goes to the Supreme Court for consideration. This Court will sit in panels of 5, 7 or 9. Naturally, for very important cases, all 9 which is the full complement of the Supreme Court would sit.

A Small Claims Court case would be cited on Canlii because it was noteworthy and important. The reasoning in the decision seemed credible and accurate. Written reasons in Small Claims Court is an exception. Chattels and appliances and the like are not going to warrant a major lawsuit, so all you may ever find is a Small Claims Court decision. If it was posted on Canlii it was because the editors thought that others could learn from it. While it may not be precedent setting, it is nevertheless interesting and “persuasive”.

Brian Madigan LL.B., Broker

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