After both parties have filed their initial documentation in a Small Claims Dispute the court registry will set the matter down for a settlement conference. There is always the risk that a matter proceeding forward in Small Claims may not go in an individual favour and it is often a burdensome task for all the parties to be involved in ongoing litigation. The purpose of the settlement conference is to attempt to resolve the matter early on by having a no risk conversation regarding the dispute.
People are often stressed about attending a settlement conference but the important thing to remember is that it is a normal part of the process and very little will occur at the settlement conference unless they consent. In essence a settlement conference is a group meeting between a judge and both parties to have am open discussion on the dispute between them. Either or both parties can bring legal representation with them to the settlement conference or can attend on their own. The judge who is involved in the settlement conference will not have be the same judge who hears the matter if it proceeds to trial. It is important to remember that the conversation at a settlement conference is on a without-prejudice basis and therefore anything discussed cannot be used against one of the parties at trial. This allows for a more open dialogue about the issues the parties are in dispute about. Often the judge will control the flow of the conversation and they may provide their opinion on the strengths and weakness of both cases and the potential outcomes for both parties may be if the matter proceeds to trial. If it becomes apparent that settlement will not be possible the judge will often make some routine orders regarding disclosure of documents and witness lists in advance of trial in order to help the matter move forward smoothly.
Even if you do not think that settlement is possible it is essential that you attend at the settlement conference you may loss by default.