Do you know what's involved?
If you're thinking of going to court, do you know what's involved? You might be surprised!
Most disputes are of relatively low value and if what's at stake is worth less than £10,000, its considered a "small claims court" case. Here's what you can expect....
Not more call centres!
The courts have been centralised and all small claims are now started in a processing centre (in Salford) no matter where you live in the country.
Usually you will have to deal with a call centre in order to speak to court staff. It is unusual now for you to speak with court staff in person. If you can get through on the telephone, the court staff will not give you advice or help you understand the Court rules or legal jargon. They are generally understaffed and are usually a stressed-out bunch!
Jargon, Rules & Evidence
As you would expect, there is quite a bit of legal jargon and there are complex County Court rules that you must follow. The rules are not the easiest or most entertaining bedtime reading! You will need to set out your legal case against the other party for the Court. A difficult one for non lawyers as they don't understand the law, or how to present a legal case.
Do you know the law on your dispute?
You will need to bring "evidence" to prove your legal case. There are specific legal rules about evidence and you need to understand these to make sure a judge will take account of what you want to say. Some evidence may be thrown out and disregarded if it breaks evidence rules.
Deadlines, delays & worse...
The court will impose strict deadlines by which you must file documents and witness statements and take certain steps. If you do not comply with the time limits your case can be struck out and you will not be able to proceed. You will lose the court fees you've already paid. The rules can be quite harsh
The case is likely to take between 6–9 months for a small claims court case (possibly longer).
The judge will decide who wins based on the evidence and the legal position.
Usually in a small claim (a case worth less than £10,000) the court will not award costs and each party will have to pay their own costs. This does seem unfair especially for the winner. The judge can only usually award damages (an amount of money) and court fees (not legal costs). The court cannot make a party apologise for example.
There will be stress, frustration, anxiety and delays- oh and disappointment for someone!
Put off yet?
Yes it's a tricky one when you have an unresolved dispute that's dragging on. You might want to visit Citizens Advice for some help and advice.
There is another way...
Have you considered mediation as an alternative to settling your dispute?
Mediation is an out of court alternative to settling disputes. It's really, quick, relatively cheap compared to court and you don't have to meet the other party face to face.
Roberta Mason is a mediator. She was a solicitor for over 20 years and knows a thing of two about disputes and going to court. She has a real sense of social justice for ordinary people and small business owners