03/10/2015 03:28 EDT | Updated 05/10/2015 05:59 EDT

B.C. to have mandatory online tribunal to settle small claims, strata disputes

VICTORIA - An estimated 40,000 British Columbians who are fighting small claims or strata disputes each year will soon be able to use their laptops or handheld devices to access a government system that aims to resolve legal matters quickly and cheaply.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton said Tuesday the government is set to introduce Canada's first mandatory online tribunal system to settle minor disputes involving small claims court and strata councils without setting foot in local courthouses.

She said amendments to the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act will make online justice the first stop to settle disputes, but the parties still have the option to take the matter to court.

"Our goal is to make these cases start off in the tribunal itself," said Anton.

"This is very new technology. We're actually the first in the world to be doing this. You can start your claim at midnight from your desktop at home."

She said the online tribunal will involve a three-stage process, starting with attempts by both sides to resolve the issue on their own, progressing to mediation and concluding with a tribunal member with powers to decide the matter.

Anton did not have an exact timeline for the program's implementation, but she said it would start later this year with a voluntary online system.

She said people with strata disputes currently end up in B.C. Supreme Court or trying to settle their differences in other ways.

"Everybody knows somebody who's been in a strata nightmare," said Anton. "Often, it's about something fairly minor like a tree or a parking spot."

Tribunal chairwoman Shannon Salter said in a statement issued the Ministry of Attorney General that the online tribunal will increase access to justice for British Columbians "by helping them to resolve strata property and small claims disputes fairly, quickly and affordably, from the comfort of their own home."

Vancouver Island Strata Owners Association president Sandy Wagner said in a statement issued by Anton's ministry that the online method offers cheaper, accessible and timely resolutions to disputes.