Civil Law – How Does it Work?
Updated: Jun 15
Civil litigation is a lawsuit based on non-criminal statutes. Civil lawsuits are handled by the courts and typically involve individuals, groups of people, corporations or other legal entities. Civil lawsuits can be broken down into two main components – small claims actions and civil litigation. In Ontario, small claims suits are capped at $25,000.00 whereas there is no limit for civil litigation.
Civil lawsuits are very much alike small claims actions, except, as previously stated, the sought relief may be much greater. A civil lawsuit starts with a complaint setting out the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Much like small claims matters, the Defendant must then serve and file a defence or risk being noted in default. The Defendant may also choose to serve and file a counter-claim. If a counter-claim is served, the Plaintiff (or Defendant to Counter-Claim) must then file a defence.
After the defence is filed, civil lawsuits then proceed to the discovery stage. Discovery is where each party share information with the other by various methods. This prevents parties from “hiding” evidence. The most common type of discoveries is a pre-scheduled set of questioning by counsel wherein the Complainant and Defendant are sworn in (under oath to tell the truth) and questioned as if it were a trial. These discoveries are recorded by a court reporter and transcripts are provided to both parties’ counsel. Any and all evidence submitted through these discoveries may be used in trial. Discovery is typically the longest step of the civil litigation progress as it begins after all pleadings have been filed and does not end until just prior to trial.
If the matter is not resolved after the discovery stage, civil matters then proceed to trial. Trials start with opening statements. This is where the parties (or their counsel) give a brief breakdown of the issues at hand and a general idea of what evidence will be presented, without actually presenting any evidence. After opening statements, it is up to the Plaintiff to present their case. This is done through witnesses. Witnesses can give verbal testimony or physical evidence may be introduced using the witnesses. Again, there are very strict rules regarding the admissibility of evidence.
The defence has the opportunity to cross examine each witness after the Plaintiff is done their questioning. There are specific rules regarding the questioning of witnesses. Once the Plaintiff has finished presenting their case, the Defendant has the opportunity to present their case through their own witnesses. The Plaintiff will have the chance to cross-examine the Defendant’s witnesses. The Plaintiff will then have one final opportunity to present evidence. This is known as rebuttal evidence.
At the conclusion of the trial, both parties are then required to make closing submissions. Closing arguments summarize the evidence and present case law to support their position. The judge then makes a decision based on the evidence presented. Typically, the decision is not rendered right away, and the matter is adjourned to allow the Judge time to consider all evidence.
At Shankar Law, we deal with both small claims matters and civil matters. If you have questions regarding either, give us a call.
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