Where you are fighting on you, the court will send you a Directions Questionnaire to complete. The other side will also be sent one. Unless you are exempt from court fees, on claims over £1,500 you will have a further court fee to pay.
Dispute value Court Fee
£300.01 - £1,500 £0
£1,500.01 - £10,000 £40
In the form you will be asked to list any witnesses you wish to bring to the hearing. You will also be asked about any expert evidence you want to be able to rely on.
The form will also ask you if you have any special needs that the court will need to cater for, so that you to have a fair hearing. Examples include wheelchair access or an interpreter.
The judge will guide you through the process at the hearing. However, if you do not feel confident about representing yourself you can use the form to name someone else to do this for you - but you would still need to be present. This can be a friend or relative. It can be a solicitor (but you would have to pay them for their time and would not get this money back even if you win)
The judge will then review the forms and make decisions about any steps needed before a hearing. You should read the paperwork sent by the court and make sure you follow the instructions.
Typically a court date will be given and you will be told to send copies of all documents you are relying on to the other side and to the court by a specified date.
- Sometimes, with straightforward disputes, the judge will offer to deal with the dispute based on the papers and without a hearing. You do not have to agree with this.
- The instructions will explain how to ask the court to change the hearing date (for a fee) where you have good reasons – such as being abroad.
- You can also write in to ask for the hearing to happen without you. This might be because the travel costs of attending cannot be justified given the small amount of the dispute. This request must be sent to both the court and your opponent more than 7 days before the hearing.
- Check you have followed all instructions from the court
- You should review all your paperwork. Please make sure you have re-read your letter of complaint and all other paperwork you have sent setting out your position. It is not a memory test but you will be asked questions and you do not want to contradict statements you have made before.
- Witnesses: If you have asked any witnesses to attend the hearing when you completed the Directions Questionnaire, then give them a call to make sure they have received instructions form the court confirming the time and place they should attend.
- Summary of case: Write out a short summary of the key points you would like to make at the hearing. This will help you make best use of the limited time available. A good tactic is to also write down your 2 or 3 strongest or main points. Get them very short and to the point.
- Dealing with your opponent: Read what your opponent has said about your claim. You are likely to be asked to comment on this by the judge. Therefore prepare in advance. You should work out how you will respond to these points.
- Have an up to date calculation of what you are claiming (with small claims there are limits on your costs relating to the hearing):
- The amount still in dispute
- All court fees you have paid
- Fixed costs towards what you paid for legal advice (take your solicitor’s invoice with you)
- Your loss of earnings for taking a day off work to attend the court hearing (a letter from your employer)
- Travel to the hearing (even reasonable overnight expenses may be allowed in some cases where it was a long way to go and the judge thinks it reasonable for you to have travelled the day before)
- Spare copies: Make sure you have a spare copy of any document that you want to use at the hearing that you have not already sent in (to give to the judge and other side).
- Evidence: Most photographs, receipts, statements and any expert letters or reports will already have been sent to the court and the other side. However you may have actual evidence you can take with you – such as damaged clothing or the faulty product itself. This depends on what is practical in the circumstances and photos may be fine.
- Plan what you’re going to wear in advance – you don’t want to be in a panic on the day. See dress code below.
- Plan your travel arrangements in advance – including the location of the court, the nearest parking and having money to pay any parking meter. Often the court will be one that is local to your opponent not you – so the area may be unfamiliar.
The Judge will be wearing a suit, not a formal gown and wig.
To create a good impression, it is recommended that you wear smart clothes such as a shirt and jacket.
There is no requirement to wear a suit. For men it is not essential that you wear a tie. However these can help create a positive impression with the judge as it makes it clear that you respect the court and are taking the process seriously.
Arriving at Court:
Time: The court will give you a start time. Try and allow extra time for traffic delays and parking. Also many courts have security on entry which (like airports) can cause delays at busy times. Allowing extra time should mean that you do not arrive feeling “flustered”
Court: When arriving at the court complex there is likely to be a desk with a person (called an “usher”) whose role is to help people like you find the room being used for your hearing.
To ask the usher at the entrance to the courts, which court room, is being used for your hearing you will need to be able to give the name of both you and your opponent and sometimes also the claim number.
Waiting: There is likely to be a sitting area close to the court room where you can wait.
Unfortunately there will often be a fair bit of waiting.
The usher will tell you when the judge is ready for you to go in.
If you have a witness with you and you want to discuss the case – remember your opponent is also likely to be sitting close by and may be able to overhear. Often there are private waiting rooms – you can ask the usher if you can speak with your witness there.
When told the judge is ready you can take everyone with you and the judge will decide who can stay.
Usually small claims cases will be heard in the judge’s private meeting room – not a full court room. This is meant to be a relaxed informal process – not like trials you see on tv.
The judge will behind a desk.
You and your opponent will be invited to sit in front of him or her.
The judge is likely to go out of his or her way to make you and your opponent feel at ease, as you are both likely to be nervous. The judge knows you will not be familiar with court processes and is there to help you.
- If you have brought people with you for support (perhaps a friend or your other half), the judge is likely to let them go in with you – but unless they are also a witness or are there to represent you, they will not be able to answer questions on your behalf.
- Witnesses will also be allowed to come into the courtroom with you. There are usually plenty of chairs. The judge should know how many to expect from your Directions Questionnaire.
- Expert witnesses such as engineer are usually allowed to sit in the court room throughout. However the Directions you received from the judge will be clear as to whether you are allowed to bring the expert to court. Judges often prefer to rely just on their written reports rather than live evidence in small claims cases.
The hearing itself is informal in a private room. The judge will read the paperwork both sides have provided and then will give each of you a chance to explain anything the judge has not understood. The judge is allowed to decide what the best way is of conducting your particular case fairly in the limited time available. The judge is likely to ask both sides questions about their case.
The judge will then make a decision based on the evidence. He or she might order that certain actions happen (such as making a payment) with a specified amount of time or that one side stops doing something.
The judge will give reasons for the decision reached. You might want to write these down. The decision (but not the reasons) will then get written up by the court in a formal court order that will be sent to you.
If you’re the claimant and you lose
- If you lose and the judge finds for your opponent, then:
- Contain your disappointment and don’t lose your temper with the other side or the judge – or you might face a financial penalty. It is far better to accept the decision with good grace and leave with your dignity intact.
- Simply keep your response to something like “ I am disappointed but thank you for your time”
- You will not get back the court fees or your other expenses.
- You may be asked to pay a small contribution (but sometimes nothing) towards your opponent’s costs of defending the claim you brought.
- However if the judge thinks that you have behaved unreasonably in the way you have brought the claim you may be asked to pay more of their costs.
- If you feel that you have good reasons, you can appeal against the judge’s decision:
- You must apply within 21 days and the court will decide if your reasons come within the limited rules for bringing an appeal.
- This would only be if the judge made a mistake in applying the law or there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings. It is not enough just because the judge preferred your opponent’s evidence to yours – a judge is usually permitted to reach that type of conclusion.