At some stage we will all be faced with the issue of being unable to resolve a dispute and there may be the need to bring or indeed defend a small claim.
Before you start a claim it is helpful to examine what has happened and what action you can take and then what action you should take. Going to court should only ever be a last resort when all other avenues have failed.
Sometimes it is possible to do nothing, going to court is a highly time consuming, potentially expensive and stressful time. It may be that on the balance of probabilities the matter is not worth spending time and energy on. Even if you were to issue a claim and be successful you need to examine the other sides financial position to ensure that they would be able to pay.
If you do decide to go to court then the judge will wish to see evidence that you have attempted to avoid the need to use court time, so for example have you tried to speak to the other side to resolve the issue, have you issued a formal letter before action? Alternatively have you considered mediation. This is where a third party meets with both sides and talks through the issue in dispute with a view to arriving at a resolution where both parties are happy. Further there may a regulator who you can complain to in the first instance and seek their involvement. If all else fails and you wish to bring a claim or indeed need to defend a claim then you must ensure the civil procedural rules are followed.
A small claim is a case that has been allocated by the court to the small claims track in the county court. There are three different “tracks” within the court system, namely, small, fast and multi-track. This blog deals with small claims. If you have a case which is one of the other two you should consult a legal advisor for further information.
A person who brings a claim is called a “claimant” and the the person who defends a claim is called a “defendant.
A small action claim is classed as a civil claim and is subject to following the Civil Procedural Rules. A civil claim is heard by either the county court or the High Court.
Small claims cases are typically claims for lower values and less complex cases, for example claims for compensation for faulty services i.e. Builders providing defective services or the claim may be for a faulty good such as a defective motor vehicle or a television etc or for unpaid bills. Disputes between a landlord and tenant are also heard by the small claims court, for example where there is outstanding rent or maybe a compensation payment for not doing specific repairs.
When you issue your claim you do not need to decide which “track” your case will be allocated to, this is dealt with by a district judge and they make this decision for you as part of the case management. They decide which “track” your case is best suited to based upon the value of the claim and how complex the case may be. You will also need to complete a Directions Questionnaire setting out your preference.
Any cases which are of a criminal nature cannot be heard in the small claims court.
There are a number of costs involved in court proceedings, firstly court fees. This is the amount you need to pay the court for issuing a claim or indeed for arranging a hearing. If you win your case the judge will generally order that the other side pay the original court fees and maybe any incidental costs/expenses of attending the hearing on that date. If you have had to instruct an expert as part of the proceedings then the court may also order that these be reimbursed as well. However, unlike most civil claims, under the small claims track there is generally no order for a person to recover their legal costs e.g solicitors costs even if they win. For this reason most people tend to bring a small claim and represent themselves due to the prohibitive costs usually associated with getting a solicitor involved. However, there are now a number of online legal organisations who can assist you in preparing or defending a claim and do not charge very much for their service. The court does reserve a discretion that if a person brings a case and they are unsuccessful, or if as a defendant you put the other side to huge trouble and then lose the court can make an award for costs and you will need to pay the full costs that the other side have incurred.
On this basis it is always worth spending time to ensure you are fully aware of the correct legal position. If you have any doubt as to the correct legal position it is always worth seeking professional advice as soon as possible even if following the advice you decide to represent yourself. Ignorance of the law is no defence!