The T2K neutrino experiment at J-PARC uses a set of near detectors to measure the properties of an unoscillated neutrino beam and neutrino interaction cross-sections. One of the sub-detectors of the near-detector complex, the side muon range detector (SMRD), is described in the paper. The detector is designed to help measure the neutrino energy spectrum, to identify background and to calibrate the other detectors. The active elements of the SMRD consist of 0.7 cm thick extruded scintillator slabs inserted into air gaps of the UA1 magnet yokes. The readout of each scintillator slab is provided through a single WLS fiber embedded into a serpentine-shaped groove. Two Hamamatsu multi–pixel avalanche photodiodes (MPPC's) are coupled to both ends of the WLS fiber. This design allows us to achieve a high MIP detection efficiency of greater than 99%. A light yield of 25–50 p.e./MIP, a time resolution of about 1 ns and a spatial resolution along the slab better than 10 cm were obtained for the SMRD counters.