All claims for less than £5,000 (or £1000 if the claim is for personal injury) will usually be allocated by the court to be dealt with under the Small Claims procedure. Claims for higher amounts can also be dealt with under the Small Claims procedure if both the parties and the court agree.
The idea behind it
The idea behind Small Claims is that they will be heard by a District Judge in his private rooms with Litigant in persons/Self represented Litigant presenting their case themselves. There is a minimum of formality and the Small Claims procedure is similar to an informal arbitration with procedural rules being kept to a minimum.
No lawyer needed
The whole point is for people without legal experience to be able to bring or defend claims under this procedure themselves, without the expense of employing a lawyer. For that reason legal costs are not generally awarded and all the losing party will have to pay will be the Court fee and any expenses incurred by the winning party.
The Statement of Claim must set out the legal basis of your claim and should include the full amount you are permitted to claim. Properly prepared Particulars of Claim will give credibility to your case and show that you are aware of the requirements of the Court.
Before issuing a Small claim, all possibilities of settlement should be explored. A formal 'letter before action' advising of the intention to issue court proceedings should always be sent to an intended defendant, who should be allowed a reasonable time to comply (for example 14 days) with the request for payment.
If this is ignored proceedings can then be issued in any County Court. Thereafter you will have 4 months in which to serve proceedings from the date of issue i.e if you issued proceedings on the 1st Jan 2012 you would have until 31st April 2012 to serve your proceedings. Once proceedings are served the Defendant must then either enter an Acknowledgement of Service within 14 days or submit a Defence to the proceedings. If this is not done the Claimant may apply for judgment to be entered.
Home or away
The court will manage the running of the case and serve all papers. If a defence is filed the case is likely to be transferred for hearing to the Defendant's 'home' Court. That Court will then send an 'allocation questionnaire' to the parties asking about witnesses, evidence and how they want the matter to be decided. A district judge will look at the claim and defence and will issue directions as to how the matter should be conducted from thereon and usually fix a date for the Hearing
Then the hearing
The Directions will usually follow a standard form and require the parties to exchange copies of any documents to be relied upon before the Hearing and bring the originals to Court. If it is intended to call expert evidence the leave of the Court must first be obtained
by a District Judge
The Hearing will be informal and conducted by a District Judge in his private rooms. Evidence will not usually be required to be given on oath and everybody remains seated around a table. The Judge can order an award immediately after the Hearing and will provide reasons as to how and why he has come to his decision. Payment to the winning party will usually be ordered to be paid within 14 days.
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