What Is The Small Claims Court?
There isn’t actually a small claims court! Low value claims are dealt with in the small claims track of the civil courts. They are however, commonly referred to as being in the small claims court.
The civil courts have a limited number of judges, courtrooms and staff, so they have to decide how much of their resources to spend on a particular claim.
The courts deal with a huge number of claims each year so the lower value claims have to be dealt with more quickly and with less work.
Claims of a value up to £10,000, are usually dealt with in the small claims track of the civil court system. They are almost always dealt with in the County Court.
The small claims limit used to be £5,000 until 1st April 2013, when the limit was increased to £10,000. There are proposals to increase it to £15,000 in the future – watch this space!
What Is The Small Claims Court?
“What is the small claims court? It is a swift and proportionate way to deal with lower value claims. It is swift justice and the more preparation you carry out, the better chance there is of the court understanding your side of the claim in the time the Judge will have available at trial.”
Money Claims And The Claims Our Site Relates To
Most small claims are money claims – someone owes someone else money, whether it be a debt, building dispute or other type of argument. These are the types of matters our site relates to.
We aren’t talking about personal injury claims on this site, as the court rules, forms and administration are different. Neither do we cover employment, insolvency or property possession claims.
How Is The Small Claims Court Different?
The main differences between small claims and the other claims the courts deal with are:
- The parties cannot usually recover any legal costs they incur, regardless of who wins at trial. The only legal costs that can generally be recovered, are any court fees paid along the way if a claim is successful.
- Because of this, the parties tend not to have solicitors or barristers involved. If the cost of a legal adviser cannot be recovered, many people decide not to use one at all.
- The court has much less involvement before the matter goes to trial. The court will send an order setting out what it requires the parties to do before trial. This tends to be straight forward and simply sets a deadline for when all documents and evidence you want to rely on must be sent to court and sent to the other side.
- The trial itself tends to be quick and informal. A small claim trial is only likely to last a couple of hours and the Judge will largely control what information he wants to enable him to decide the case.
The key point is that the civil courts spend more time on higher value and more complex claims. This makes it all the more important that you prepare your case and evidence properly so that the Judge will understand your version of events in the time available at trial.
Terms Used By The Courts & Court Procedure
Certain unusual words and phrases can appear on the court paperwork. Here are a few useful terms to be aware of:
- The claimant is the person who issues the claim.
- The defendant is the person responding to the claim.
- The claimant starts the claim by issuing a claim form, which the court puts in the post to the defendant.
- Part of the claim form is called the particulars of claim. This sets out what the claim is about, what the claimant wants from the defendant and how the sum claimed is calculated.
- When the court serves a claim on the defendant, it will also send a response pack. This is a bundle of documents which includes an acknowledgment of service, defence form and admission form.
- The defendant sends his defence to court and the claimant by the date specified in the paperwork and no later than 14 days from the date of deemed service.
- The court sets the directions after the parties file a directions questionnaire. This is a form that must be completed and sent to court. The Claimant also usually has to pay a fee.
- Directions (sometimes referred to as case management directions) are the steps ordered by the court to to get a claim to trial.
- The court will set a trial date and may refer to ELH. ELH is stands for estimated length of hearing.
- When setting directions, the court may refer to filing and serving a document. Filing means sending it to court. Serving a document means sending it to the other side.
- A witness statement is a written statement by someone who is to give evidence at trial.
- A witness statement, particulars of claim and defence should be signed by the witness, containing a statement of truth. This is an important statement to the court that the signing person believes the content of the document is true. Signing a false statement is contempt of court which is a criminal offence.
- The courts encourage mediation. Small claims mediation is a free service provided by the court to help parties reach terms of settlement. A mediator does not sign a claim, he just helps to see if a deal can be reached.
If you are unsure as to what a phrase or word means, give the court office a call. The courts cannot give legal advice but they might help explain some of the basics.