Unintended Consequences: The Regressive Effects of Increased Access to Courts

26 Pages Posted: 28 May 2020

See all articles by Anthony Niblett

Anthony Niblett

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law; Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 2017

Abstract

Small claims courts enable parties to resolve their disputes relatively quickly and cheaply. The court's limiting feature, by design, is that alleged damages must be small, in accordance with the jurisdictional limit at that time. Accordingly, one might expect that a large increase in the upper limit of claim size would increase the court's accessibility to a larger and potentially more diverse pool of litigants. We examine this proposition by studying the effect of an increase in the jurisdictional limit of the Ontario Small Claims Court. Prior to January 2010, claims up to $10,000 could be litigated in the small claims court. After January 2010, this jurisdictional limit increased to include all claims up to $25,000. We study patterns in nearly 625,000 disputes over the period 2006–2013. In this article, we investigate plaintiff behavior. Interestingly, the total number of claims filed by plaintiffs does not increase significantly with the increased jurisdictional limit. We do find, however, changes to the composition of plaintiffs. Following the jurisdictional change, we find that plaintiffs using the small claims court are, on average, from richer neighborhoods. We also find that the proportion of plaintiffs from poorer neighborhoods drops. The drop‐off is most pronounced in plaintiffs from the poorest 10 percent of neighborhoods. We explore potential explanations for this regressive effect, including crowding out, congestion, increased legal representation, and behavioral influences. Our findings suggest that legislative attempts to make the courts more accessible may have unintended regressive consequences.

Suggested Citation

Niblett, Anthony and Yoon, Albert, Unintended Consequences: The Regressive Effects of Increased Access to Courts (March 2017). Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 14, Issue 1, pp. 5-30, 2017, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3607349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jels.12140

Anthony Niblett (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
Canada

Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence ( email )

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
Canada

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