A Small Claim case can be described in simple terms as a defended case which the County Court has allocated to the Small Claims Track. There are special rules about Small Claims cases and their procedures which are different from other claims in the County Court.
With effect from 1 April 2013 if the value of a claim is £10,000 or less than this amount, the claim will generally be allocated by the Court to the Small Claims Track once a Defence has been filed. However, where the claim is for personal injury or for housing repair, the limit is £1,000 although in some claims where the value of the claim is more than £10,000 the Court has a discretion to allocate the case to the Small Claims Track subject to certain considerations.
Most claims and disputes between parties for these amounts can be dealt with under the Small Claims procedure which is a simple procedure to claims allocated to the Fast Track or Multi Track. When the Court is considering whether to allocate a case to the Small Claims Track, it will take into account a number of factors, but the main factor will be the financial value of the claim and whether it is appropriate for the dispute to be resolved in this way.
Both the Claimant and the Defendant should be aware that in most cases, the Court will not order Solicitor’s costs to be paid by the losing party in a Small Claims case. Accordingly, if one party instructs a Solicitor, they will be responsible for paying their own Solicitor’s costs themselves. For this reason, many parties do not use Solicitors to assist or represent them when dealing with a Small Claim, although when matters are complicated, it may be considered prudent to do so and cost effective when preparing the case where Solicitors can either assist in the background or go on the Court Record to represent the party.
The parties should be aware that if Court proceedings are to be taken (which should always be seen as last resort if matters cannot be resolved by any other way) they must be issued within certain time limits. The time limits very much depend upon what type of claim there is and when the claim arose and further advice may be necessary in this regard.
With effect from 1 April 2013, and in order to improve awareness of Alternative Dispute Resolution and to encourage the parties to use it, all Small Claims will be automatically referred to Mediation. This does not mean that Mediation is compulsory although a Mediator is contacted to establish whether Mediation would be appropriate for resolving the dispute. For the Mediation itself, the Mediator will ensure that both parties are aware that the process is not a Court hearing and that the Mediator will not take sides but be neutral when considering the facts and the evidence. There will also be provision to allow parties in low value Small Claims cases to choose whether their Small Claim can be determined on paper, without the necessity for a formal Court hearing. This can only happen if the Court agrees that it is appropriate in the circumstances. Whilst many Mediations can produce settlements, parties are not legally bound by the outcome of Mediation, although if one party unreasonably refuses to accept the Mediation or are unreasonable in the conduct of their case, then this could result in cost penalties being made against that party subject to the discretion of the Court.
When being involved in a Small Claim (whether as a Claimant or a Defendant) it is very important that the parties prepare their cases accordingly and ensure that their positions are confirmed in writing where appropriate, and that all necessary documentary or other evidence they rely upon is in good and proper order and can be easily followed by the Court. This will allow the Court to reach (hopefully) a fair decision in the circumstances given the facts and evidence.
Finally, as with all claims (whether they be Small Claims or not) it is invariably better to resolve the issues between the parties on the best available terms from a financial/economic and time point of view rather than leaving it to the Court to make a final determination and where either or indeed both of the parties may be dissatisfied with the ultimate decision. This is where Solicitors may be able to assist before the matter even becomes a Small Claim!