A general guide for bringing or defending a ‘small claim’ at Court

This article provides a brief guide to assist you with understanding the court process’ for bringing a small claim at Court. The dispute resolution team at Chadwick Lawrence deal expertly with a vast range of both private and personal disputes and aim to provide a friendly, cost effective and professional service to help guide you through the legal procedures.

If a claim has been issued with the Court and the defendant defends this claim, the claim can either be settled or proceed and go to a hearing for the Court to resolve the dispute. Prior to reaching a hearing at the Court, each case has to be allotted to a “track”. This track represents the process which a claim has to go through before a final hearing and how the Court will deal with the claim.

What is a small claim?

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’ known as the small track, fast tack and multi-track. These tracks are allocated accordingly depending on the value and complexity of the case.

The track allocation applies to ‘civil claims’ and will not involve cases concerning criminal, family or insolvency law.

Small claims are usually lower value civil cases, rather than disputes of complexity or high value. When the court is deciding if a case is suitable for the small claims track, usually two things will be considered;

  1. The financial value of the case

If the value of the claim is £10,000 or less, it will generally be allocated to the small claims track. However, there are exceptions which apply to Personal Injury Claims and Landlord and Tenant disputes.

  1. The complexity of the case

If the case is of low value but could be regarded as complex, a directions questionnaire will be submitted by both the Claimant and the Defendant which illustrates to the Court the issues and complexities of the case, a Judge may then direct that the case needs to be dealt with on another track for a full hearing.

The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (‘CPR’)

In order to make a claim there are specific Court rules that must be adhered to, these are known as the Civil Procedure Rules and provide ruling as to how claims must be dealt with. If you do not follow these rules accordingly cost sanctions can be applied and/or your case could be ‘struck out.’ This means that the Court has dismissed your claim entirely and will no longer deal with your claim.

 Costs

It is generally quicker and more cost effective to bring a claim on the small claims track, as there is no need for substantial pre-hearing preparation and the formalities of a traditional trial. However, there are usually three types of expenses involved in bringing court proceedings;

  1. Court fees will apply and are dependant upon the value of the case. The HM Court Tribunals Service details the fees applicable to various claims. In most cases, if you are successful and win a small claim, the Court can direct that the opposing party reimburse your court fee.
  2. Legal costs for instructing lawyers to deal with your case for you. If a case is allocated to the small claims track, usually each party will have to bear their own legal costs and it is very unlikely the Court will order these to be recovered from the losing party. The Court can order that if the losing party has acted unreasonable in the proceedings that they should be liable for the legal costs incurred by the successful party.
  3. Some disbursements may apply if applicable to your case. If the Court allows for expert evidence to be obtained, fees may be incurred if your case relies upon an expert witness and therefore you will need to incur these costs. If you win a small claim, the other party will generally be ordered to reimburse these for you.

Are there other options available as an alternative to Court?

Before issuing a claim with the Court it is useful to weigh up the options available to you and court proceedings should be viewed as a last resort. The CPR rules provide further rulings in the Pre – Action Conduct and Protocols which direct that reasonable attempts must be made by the Claimant before a claim is issued.

Some other options to consider may be:

  1. Doing nothing – it is useful to consider whether or not a cause of action is necessary. Even if you are successful at Court and obtain a Judgment against your opposition there is no certainty that you will secure the amount awarded. Always consider whether the other party is worth suing in an attempt to save you unrecoverable time and expense.
  2. Corresponding with the opposition – usually by written form known as a ‘letter before action’ to try resolve the issue.
  3. Mediation – this process is known as ‘Alternative Dispute Resolution’ whereby an independent third party will be instructed to assist you in discussing your dispute with the opposition.

What next?

Should you require expert assistance, our specialist lawyers in the Dispute Resolution department at Chadwick Lawrence would be delighted to discuss matters with you to allow them to gain a complete understanding of how we can assist with you.