On January 1, 2024, new streamlined trials replaced summary trials in Alberta. In this bulletin, we summarize some of the changes between these two processes.
On November 8, 2023, the Alberta Lieutenant Governor in Council approved Order in Council 185/2023, which amended the Alberta Rules of Court, repealing summary trials and replacing them with streamlined trials. These amendments came into effect on January 1, 2024.
Summary trials were rarely used in Alberta. The Rules of Court committee, in a 2021 request for comments, determined that two main issues hindered the use of summary trials. First, a defendant could object to a summary trial being the appropriate mode of trial right up until the eve of that trial. This could cause parties to expend resources preparing for a summary trial which would never take place. Second, a judge could decline to offer a ruling at the end of a summary trial. Parties were hesitant to invest resources into the process knowing that the Court may decline to grant a certain and binding decision.
The streamlined trial process solves both issues by confirming the trial months in advance and ensuring that a judgment must be rendered at the conclusion of a trial. This process is intended to offer litigants a faster, cheaper and more certain path to resolving civil actions.
What Are Streamlined Trials, and When Are They Appropriate?
A streamlined trial is a full trial on the merits, and the presiding judge shall grant judgment at the end of the trial. Unlike summary trials, the judge can no longer decline to render judgment.
A streamlined trial is appropriate when the streamlined process can fully resolve an action and that process is proportionate to the complexity and the amounts involved. While there is a presumption that most evidence in a streamlined trial will be presented by affidavit, the process will not be considered disproportionate simply because some issues of credibility may arise, oral or expert evidence may be introduced or cross-examination of some witnesses may be required.
Generally, the streamlined trial process will be suited to cases that involve the recovery of a liquidated sum, the recovery of real or personal property, the interpretation of a contract, personal injury claims for less than C$100,000 and wrongful dismissals.
Applying for a Streamlined Trial
A court order is required for a streamlined trial. The court may order a streamlined trial on its own motion at nearly any point during the litigation process. Alongside that order, the court may also make a procedural order, determining the course of the streamlined proceedings.
Otherwise, a party can apply to have a matter heard under a streamlined trial. To do so, the party must fill out Form 36, file it and serve it on the opposing party. This application must be accompanied by a proposed streamlined trial order, specifying how the trial will proceed. The filing party must also schedule a case conference, where the court will hear the application and determine whether or not a streamlined trial is appropriate in the given circumstances.
The streamlined trial process cannot be triggered by consent of the parties. However, if both parties agree to a streamlined trial, they may submit a written request to the court, accompanied by a proposed consent order directing the streamlined trial.
After an application for a streamlined trial is granted, the parties are jointly responsible for assembling the record. Together, they are responsible for:
- Identifying the real issues in dispute;
- Agreeing on relevant and material facts and records that are not in dispute;
- Ensuring that only the relevant and material evidence necessary to resolve the dispute is contained in the trial record; and
- Organizing the record and the evidence to expedite the streamlined trial and assist the trial judge.
At least three months before the streamlined trial, the parties must schedule a pre-trial conference to confirm their readiness for trial, clarify the amount of time required for the matter and resolve any other issue related to the management of the trial.
A streamlined trial operates in much the same way as a traditional trial with some added restrictions. Most of these restrictions relate to the giving of evidence and examination.
For example, any anticipated oral evidence must be provided for and approved in the streamlined trial order. As a general rule, an examination-in-chief of any witness should not exceed 10 minutes and cross-examination should not exceed 30 minutes.
These restrictions carry over to the pleadings. Each party must prepare a written opening statement no longer than five pages, outlining that party’s position on the evidence and the outcome of the matter. The parties must also file closing briefs not exceeding 15 pages, outlining the facts relied on, the relief sought and any legal or other arguments. The parties will then be limited to a 15-minute closing argument, with a brief rebuttal period.
Given that this is a new procedure, there is very little guidance or insight presently available as to the timing of when a streamlined trial may be heard. However, depending on the circumstances, the parties may be required to book and attend at least two case conferences — the first to hear the application for a streamlined trial, and the second pre-trial conference at least three months before the trial begins. Given these requirements, there may not be any appreciable difference in timing between a streamlined trial as opposed to a regular trial date.
- The summary trial process has been repealed and replaced with streamlined trials. This new process is intended to offer a faster, cheaper and more certain alternative for resolving certain types of civil actions.
- The court may order that a matter be heard under a streamlined trial at nearly any point in the litigation process. Otherwise, the parties themselves can apply to do so.
- The process for a streamlined trial will be similar to that of a regular trial, with some restrictions. The parties will generally be restricted to written evidence. Oral evidence and witness examination will be limited to what is approved in the streamlined trial order.
For more information, please contact:
or any member of our Litigation & Dispute Resolution group.
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