The Small Claims System
The Small Claims procedure was originally established to make it easy for the public to use the Court Service to recover legitimate compensation without recourse to expensive legal advisors. In practice, this system has moved away from the definition of 'Small Claims' and, as the monetary threshold has progressively risen over the years, it has encompassed an increasing percentage of legal claims not requiring substantial compensation for personal injuries.
The parameters for a Small Claim are:
Up to £5,000 for claims not involving personal injuries.
Up to £1,000 for claims including compensation for personal injuries.
The claim to be adjudicated by a judge in chambers.
Court fees can be recovered.
Fixed costs only can be recovered if appropriate.
Small Claims hearings are administrated by the Court Service at local County Courts.
Please note that the jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court is in England and Wales. In Scotland the procedure is administrated by the Sheriff's Court and enforcement is not possible in Northern Ireland.
Action Prior To Issuing Proceedings
The court do require that all avenues of settlement are explored prior to the issuing of proceedings. This means that the other side should be given a reasonable period of time to respond to a payment demand before a claim is filed at court.
In many cases the other side may request extra time in order to investigate the potential claim. A reasonable period of time is between 7 and 14 days which should be allowed. After that, if there is no positive response, proceedings can be issued.
In all cases full documentary evidence of the claim should be disclosed to the other side at the earliest opportunity. Any omissions could result in the documents being ruled "inadmissible" by the judge.
The Court procedure
Small Claims are not heard in open court but by a judge in chambers. Effectively, the evidence is heard in informal surroundings around a table and the judge will make an immediate decision. It should be noted that there is no formal appeal procedure - you get a full and final result on the day. However, if a decision is made in your absence because you could not attend through no fault of your own you can apply for the Judgment to be set aside.
Judges tend to be very patient with lay claimants as they know that they will be both nervous and unaccustomed to court procedures. However, there are strict rules of conduct and verbal abuse, interruptions and unreasonable behaviour are not tolerated.
Making a Small Claim
The Small Claims procedure starts with the completion of a standard form. This details the substance of the claim and who the Claimant and Defendant are. On completion the form is returned to the Court office with the Court Fee.
A summons will then be sent out by post to the Defendant who has the option to:
Admit the claim and pay you in full
Admit part of the claim and pay you in part
Admit the claim (or part of) and request to pay you in installments
Dispute the claim in its entirety
If the claim or part of the claim is disputed the matter will be set down for a Court hearing.
The ClaimsLink support service
ClaimsLink can advise you in respect of your Small Claims problem, complete your Court documents and liaise with the Court. For this service there is no charge from ClaimsLink (UK) but please note the Court and filing fees.
Please do not forget that if proceedings are issued you will need to pay the Court fees in advance and a fee to one of our panel of solicitors for the filing of the N1 form at the Court - these are recoverable on a successful conclusion. Please see Court Fees & Costs for the scale of fees. If you require it, we can refer you to one of our panel of solicitors for full legal advice - this will involve you in additional costs which may not be recoverable.
What you should do next
Please contact us using our online submission form from the Fast Track if you have any procedural or other questions in respect of the above. If you instruct us we will suggest a suitable solicitor to deal with your legal requirements.