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The Small Claims Track
Written by Alex Baker, Paralegal in the Commercial Litigation Team, at Silverback Law
What Is The Small Claims Track?
When a claim is brought at court, and a Defence is received, the court will allocate it to one of three ‘tracks’ which will determine how that case will be handled:
- Small Claims Track
- Fast Track
- Multi Track
The Small Claims Track, also known as the Small Claims Court, is supposed to be a proportionate method of dealing with straightforward cases of limited value, usually £10,000 or below.
Claims within this track ordinarily arise where one party is claiming for money owed by another for goods provided or services rendered.
What Is The Procedure?
The timeline since the date the claim is issued until a final trial should take approximately 6 months but this could vary depending on the court dealing with the case, unless the matter is settled or discontinued beforehand.
Like every matter, regardless of value or complexity, the parties are always encouraged to contact each other with a view to narrow down the issues or settle matters whilst proceedings are ongoing.
There is a step-by-step procedure to litigation in the Small Claims Track:
- A claim is issued at Court by the Claimant. The Defendant has 14 days to acknowledge the claim. If the Defendant acknowledges the Claim a further 14 days is allowed to file a Defence. When a defence is filed the case is considered litigated.
- The Court will propose allocation to a specific track (Small Claims, Fast Track or Multi Track) depending on the value.
- The Court will also ask the parties to complete an allocation questionnaire. This will include details of whether you are willing to enter mediation, your preferred county court and witness’ dates of availability.
- The Court will consider the completed allocation questionnaire and allocate the case to a track by sending a notice to the parties. When the court has allocated the claim to the small claims track, the court will confirm the trial date with an estimated trial length, confirm whether the case is suitable for mediation and will give directions. Usually, standard small claims directions will apply.
Directions are the steps the parties need to follow leading up to the hearing. The hearing may be listed for a remote trial via a video platform, or the court may order a trial to be attended in person instead.
- The parties will receive mediation appointment details by the Small Claims Mediation Service if the Court have considered the case is suitable for mediation.
Mediation can often be quicker and cheaper as it is an alternative to trial where disputes could be resolved without the need for a final hearing. It can be beneficial for parties to settle at mediation as it can save the parties incurring additional costs as a case would normally progress.
- The parties will then need to comply with all directions given by the Court.
It is imperative that the steps described by the court are followed otherwise there is risk the court may strike out the claim.
- The parties will have to file witness statements and any documents they intend to rely on in evidence 14 days before the final trial. The trial will usually take approximately 2-3 hours unless there are many witnesses.
A witness statement and the documents a party intends to rely on are crucial to the outcome of the trial.
The witness statement will help set out the facts which a party is relying on in the case. The witness will also need to attend the trial as they will have to elaborate on their evidence and will be asked questions by a Judge and the parties. A witness will not be allowed to speak at the trial unless a witness statement for them is filed.
It is important to note that, if a party fails to action the directions by the deadline set out by the court, it will have to make an application to allow the evidence or postpone the trial to another date. It is very likely the party making the application will have to pay out some costs to their opposition.
What Can You Expect At The Trial?
The witness(es) will need to attend the trial whether that be attending in person or remotely.
There is a usual format that a Judge may follow when conducting a trial. However, sometimes the Judge may change or leave out some steps if it is best and easier for the parties involved. This would likely only happen when a party is unrepresented.
Generally, you should expect a trial to follow in an ordinary format which is:
- Claimant’s opening statement
- Claimant’s witness evidence
- Defendant’s cross-examination of Claimant’s witness evidence
- Claimant’s re-examination of Claimant’s witness evidence
- Defendant’s witness evidence
- Claimant’s cross-examination of Defendant’s witness evidence
- Defendant’s re-examination of Defendant’s witness evidence
- Defendant’s closing statement
- Claimant’s closing statement
- Judge’s Judgment
A Judge will always give a fully reasoned Judgment to provide the parties with a clear explanation of how that Judgment has been formed.
Can You Recover Your Costs?
In higher value claims, the parties can recover their legal costs. However, in the Small Claims Track only set fixed costs are recoverable for the parties.
An advantage of this is that the parties’ costs exposure is limited meaning the parties need not be deterred in pursuing as they would only be liable for the winning parties’ fixed costs.
The costs that are recoverable are a set amount when the claim is first issued as well as any expenses incurred for witness’ attending the trial to provide evidence.
However, the court may use its discretion to award costs to a party if a party has acted unreasonably throughout the course of proceedings. Although the courts haven’t expressly defined what is deemed to be unreasonable, it could include if a party doesn’t file evidence or attend the trial on the day.
Litigation in the Small Claims Track is a good tactic to apply pressure on debtors who are simply reluctant to pay, as once a County Court Judgment (CCJ) is obtained, it is likely to provoke payment. You will also be able to enforce the CCJ if required. The litigation process also encourages the parties to discuss the matter and narrow down the issues.
It is likely that most matters can be resolved during litigation by mediation or another form of dispute resolution. Most disputes are settled before trial as it can be more advantageous to accept a lesser sum in settlement to save incurring more legal fees.
The most crucial consideration you should have when deciding whether to issue a claim in the first place is whether the party you are intending to claim against has the funds or assets to pay what you are claiming for. If they do not, irrespective of whether there is a CCJ against them, they will not be able to pay as the financial resource isn’t there.
For further advice on The Small Claims Track, please contact Alex Baker, Paralegal in the Commercial Litigation Team, at Silverback Law on 0844 967 2700