Legal Issue of the Week: The Small Claims Process.
Navigating the court system isn’t straight forward; after all, it’s taken centuries to build our legal system into what it is today. There are different courts and judges depending on what type of case is being dealt with.
When it comes to monetary claims, these are handled by what’s known as Civil Courts. They deal with everything from unpaid debts to injury compensation claims. There are different rules depending on the value of the claim, and in this short article we answer frequently asked questions relating to small claims – i.e. what the courts regard as lower value claims.
When can I bring a small claim case?
When the total value of a claim is under £10,000.
Personal Injury Claims under £10,000 when the amount claimed for pain or suffering is under £1,000.
Road Traffic Accident Claims up to £5,000.
Where will my small claim be heard?
In the Small Claims division of the County Court
How can I be represented in a small claims court?
You can represent yourself or;
instruct a solicitor or;
instruct a ‘direct access’ barrister; or
instruct a non-legally qualified third party known as a ‘lay representative’.
How do I start my small claim?
Fill out an N1 form containing the nature and brief details of the claim, the court you want the claim to be heard in, the result you want the court to issue and the value of money you are claiming.
Send the Form to the County Court Money Claims Centre, PO Box 527, Salford M5 0BY.
What will this cost me?
Between £35 and £455 depending on the value of your claim.
If you are concerned about the cost, look at an EX160 form (available online) to see if you are eligible for help with your court fees.
What will happen once I issue a claim?
The court first needs to be satisfied that the value and complexity of your claim falls within the small claims’ limits so that they can formally allocate it to what’s called the ‘small claims track’. If not, they may allocate it to the ‘fast track’. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this will determine the speed at which your case is dealt with, it simply determines the rules on how your case will progress through the court. The court will issue a ‘directions questionnaire’ which is basically a list of things that need to be done before the case can be decided. This might be supplying evidence relating to the case to the other party or answering other questions about the claim.
You’ll be given a hearing date but there is an expectation by the court that both parties will have made every effort to settle the dispute if possible. If you and the other party agree a settlement, then no hearing will be needed, and your claim will be brought to an end.
If you and the other party cannot agree a settlement then the court may decide the result based on the documents you provided, if this is not the case, you will have a preliminary hearing to discuss any issues with the case or documents.
Usually no preliminary hearing will be needed, and your case will move straight to a final hearing where the judge will decide your case based on the arguments and evidence you present.
What evidence should I use?
Any documents or statements which you intend to use to back up your arguments in court. This should include things list receipts, emails, bank statements supporting any financial losses or, if you’ve been injured, reports from your GP and others whom you have received treatment from.
What are my alternatives to court?
You could attempt to negotiate a settlement with the other party outside of the court process. We recommend that you are open to this and seek advice if you are considering settlement because it can impact upon your rights moving forward.
You can agree to small claims mediation on your directions questionnaire to reach an agreement, in this case the court will be put on hold for 3 months to ensure the agreement is not broken.
What will my small claims hearing be like?
Small claims hearings are usually heard in what’s referred to as Judges chambers, but it may take place in a courtroom.
Typically, parties will go into a small room (very much like an office, but within the court building) and the parties will sit opposite one another with the Judge at the head of the table.
The Judge will have all the court papers before him and will hopefully have read everything ahead of the hearing. This often makes the process quicker as the Judge will have questions that he wants to put to each party that will help him to reach a decision about the case.
You will be able to ask questions of the Judge if you are unsure of the procedure, but you usually won’t be permitted to introduce new evidence at this stage.
Can I recover any of my legal costs?
Costs are always at the court’s discretion.
You can only recover limited costs from the small claims track.
Usually you can recover legal costs up to £265.
You can typically recover costs for any paperwork you submitted to court and the cost of any evidence or statements you paid to obtain. For example, you may have had to pay get a report from your GP about attending for treatment.
You can recover limited travel and accommodation costs as well as limited loss of earnings of up to £95 a day for each day you are in court.
Can I appeal a small claims decision?
You can ask the court’s permission to appeal but an appeal is usually only allowed if there was a mistake in law or irregularity in procedure.
You only have 21 days from the date of the Judge’s decision to make an appeal.
Appeals are very rarely granted. It’s not sufficient that you just didn’t like the Judge’s decision!
If you would like help with your small claim, please get in touch to see how we can help. We may be able to alleviate some stress and anxiety associated with bring a claim – plus we don’t charge for the work* [i]we do as we’re a not-for-profit teaching law firm. All legal advice is given by a solicitor who is supported by work undertaken by law students.