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The small claims court – the final hearing

I don’t want to be too prescriptive in my advice about the final hearing in a small claims court case as the judge can run the hearing as they want.  Also, I won’t go into much detail about preparation – that’s up to you.  All I would say is be prepared – being organised is invaluable when persuading a judge to find in your favour.

First up, you don’t have to be suited and booted but it can help.  If you don’t have a suit, don’t panic but do dress smartly if possible.

Next, make sure you have a copy of the bundle with you and mark up all the important documents so you can find them easily.  If you are not sure what should go in a bundle, have a look at my previous post preparing for battle.

Finally, turn up half an hour early and make sure your witnesses get there on time too.

The court set up

County courts come in many shapes and sizes.  However, there are various consistencies.

First, somewhere in the building you will find an usher.  This will be a person in a black robe with a clipboard doing their best to herd cats if you arrive at around 9.30 on any given day.  Remember: you like them and desperately want them to like you.  Register with them as soon as you can and, presuming you haven’t seen the other side, they will tell you if your opponent has appeared yet.

Next, there will be a list on a wall somewhere of the hearings that day.  Have a look for your case, what the name of your judge is and what else is listed.

If the hearing is listed for anything less than 3 hours then you will find yourself in a list with other cases.  This means that you have to sit and wait your turn.  This is one of the reasons why it can be extremely useful to be on time and polite to the usher as you could get yourself in quicker if you are ready to go and others aren’t.

The hearing

When it is your turn the usher will call out the case name to everyone.  They will then take you through to the court.  In most county courts this is normally through a couple of doors and down some empty corridors until you reach what looks like a judge’s large study with their table and papers set out and a large table opposite.  In others you can find yourself in a ‘proper’ court room with a judge sitting up high at one end and a number of rows of tables facing them.

If your judge is male, call him sir.  For a lady, it’s ma’am (pronounced as in ‘arm’).

Various events will probably take place:

The judge will check all papers are present and they will ask you what your claim is about (refer to your witness statement, keep it to the point).

The other side will at some point have the opportunity to ask you questions – don’t try to be clever about it, answer the questions straight or look to the judge for guidance.

You will have the chance to ask the other side questions.  Again, don’t be too clever about it, just ask direct questions about relevant matters.  If there is a document that needs to be referred to, make sure that all of you have it open in front of you.

Finally, you will have a chance to summarise your position.  Use it.  You don’t need to produce a Churchillian speech nor is it a good idea to bore the judge into submission.  Be clear about your points:  I did the work, they haven’t really got any complaints about the work, I invoiced, they haven’t paid.  Therefore, please agree with me.

Once all the arguing is done the judge will make a judgement.  They may ask you to wait outside for a few minutes or they may just make it there and then.  A rough running order of the judgement is

  1. Who is here and what they’re arguing about.
  2. What evidence I have heard
  3. What I think of that evidence and each side
  4. Who has won.

The judge will probably go off at quite a pace and be very full – that is for the recording’s benefit (there will be a tape recorder whirring away somewhere).

Presuming that you’ve won, remember to make sure interest is added on to the debt and have to hand the details of court fees paid – all of which will be added.

And there we have it, a whistle stop tour of the small claims court process.  If any of this seems too daunting or the claim is just getting too big for you, give me a call.

Mark Baldwin