(Quebec) The National Assembly rushed through Bill 8, which tackles delays in small claims.

“We are doing useful work,” said Minister of Justice Simon Jolin-Barrette in his closing remarks on Wednesday before the adoption of the bill which was presented on February 1.

The minister plans to reduce the wait for small claims by more than half. Currently, the average wait time for a hearing is 22 months — the wait is even longer than three years in some districts.

The Small Claims Division of the Court of Quebec hears cases where the amount in dispute is $15,000 or less. It opens nearly 20,000 files each year.

Citizens represent themselves there, for all kinds of issues, ranging from neighborhood disturbances to reimbursement for defective goods.

Law 8 “aimed at improving the efficiency and accessibility of justice” makes free mediation mandatory, and arbitration, automatic, for cases under $5,000.

The Minister believes that this will allow citizens to be more involved, and to obtain a settlement of their disputes more quickly, within three to nine months.

A pilot project has shown that the settlement rate with mediation is 60%, he said when he introduced his bill last month.

The parliamentarians, however, saw fit to amend the legislative document in order to exempt cases involving the presence of sexual or conjugal violence from the obligation to resort to mediation and arbitration.

“The majority of cases will no longer end up in court,” predicted Mr. Jolin-Barrette, who also sees it as a way to relieve judges so that they can hear other cases.

He assured that the number of accredited mediators in Quebec (500) is sufficient to process the requests.

Moreover, the law aims to simplify civil procedure in the Court of Québec. It prohibits examinations for discovery for cases under $50,000 and expert opinions will be limited.

Another novelty: the law will allow notaries who have practiced for at least ten years to be appointed judges of the Court of Quebec to “diversify” the judiciary.

It also includes a clause having the effect of modifying the composition of the Conseil de la magistrature, in order to add a member appointed after consultation with organizations working with victims of crime.

In presenting his bill, Minister Jolin-Barrette said he wanted to give victims a voice.

On Wednesday, Québec solidaire spokesperson for justice, Christine Labrie, underlined the “very uncontroversial” nature of the law.

“[She] is bringing about a culture change by relying heavily on mediation. I think it’s for the best. We very much hope that this will reduce delays in the justice system,” she said.

For his part, Liberal MP André Albert Morin notably asked the government to invest the money necessary to improve the system and measure progress using a “dashboard”.