Does a Judge Need to Explain the Reasons Upon Which a Decision Was Made?

A Judge Is Required to Provide An Explanation For a Decision. This Requirement Applies Even In the Small Claims Court.

Understanding the Requirement of Reasons Within Judicial Decisions Including Small Claims Court Cases

Lawsuit Document The decisions that are made by a judge, including the decisions made in a Small Claims Court case, are required to include explanations of the reasoning for the decision.  The requirement to provide reasons is necessary to the judicial process whereas, if necessary, the reasons may be reviewed for errors, among other concerns, at a subsequent Appeal.

The Law

Court judges, including judges within the Small Claims Court, are required to provide an explanation of the reasoning for which a decision is based. This requirement was explained within Elnasr v. Mostafa, 2022 ONSC 1735, wherein it was stated:

[28]  In assessing the sufficiency of the Deputy Judge’s Reasons, I acknowledge the tremendous volume of matters in the Small Claims Court as well as the informal nature of the Small Claims Court. As stated in Maple Ridge Community Management Ltd. v. Peel Condominium Corp. No. 231, 2015 ONCA 520, 389 DLR (4th) 711, at paras. 34 and 35:

[34]  The Small Claims Court is mandated under s. 25 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43, to “hear and determine in a summary way all questions of law and fact and may make such order as is considered just and agreeable to good conscience.” The Small Claims Court plays a vital role in the administration of justice in the province by ensuring meaningful and cost effective access to justice for cases involving relatively modest claims for damages. In order to meet its mandate, the Small Claims Court’s process and procedures are designed to ensure that it can handle a large volume of cases in an efficient and economical manner.

[35]  Reasons from the Small Claims Court must be sufficiently clear to permit judicial review on appeal. They must explain to the litigants what has been decided and why: Doerr v. Sterling Paralegal, 2014 ONSC 2335, at paras. 17-19. However, appellate consideration of Small Claims Court reasons must recognize the informal nature of that court, as well as the volume of cases it handles and its statutory mandate to deal with these cases efficiently. In short, in assessing the adequacy of the reasons, context matters: Massoudinia v. Volfson, 2013 ONCA 29, at para. 9. Just as oral reasons will not necessarily be as detailed as written reasons, reasons from the Small Claims Court will not always be as thorough as those in Superior Court decisions. Failing to take the Small Claims Court context into account only serves to restrict access to justice by unnecessarily imparting formality and delay into a legal process that is designed to be informal and efficient.

[29]  Or, in other words, to permit meaningful appellate review, the reasons must adequately express “what” was decided and “why” it was decided, see: Maple Ridge, at para. 24Law Society of Upper Canada v. Neinstein, 2010 ONCA 193, at para. 61.

[30]  If the reasons are not sufficiently detailed to understand “the what” and “the why” for the decision under review, then this is an error in law and the standard of review is correctness, see Maple Ridge, at para 22Barbieri v. Mastronardi, 2014 ONCA 416, at para. 22.

Summary Comment

Judges, including Small Claims Court judge, must explain the basis for a decision. While the explanation of reasons in a Small Claims Court case may be brief compared to explanations expected from higher courts, the explanation must be sufficient to enable review by an Appeal court.

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