Your dispute by correspondence has failed to produce a result, you have sued the company concerned and they have filed a defence.
What happens next?
- In short, two things take place. First, the court will send you a form called an allocation questionnaire. It is important that you fill this in and return it otherwise your case will be struck out. It does not contain any really difficult questions and it is supposed to be written in plain English. It will ask you questions such as: Are there any dates you need to avoid for a hearing? Who will you bring along as a witness? Have you attempted to settle the case and do you need some more time to try to do so? Secondly and subsequently the court will send you a hearing date.
- Do not be fazed by the prospect of turning up to a Small Claims hearing. It is not scary and is designed to assist people who are not lawyers. The most important thing to do is to prepare properly. What does this involve? You should prepare in triplicate a short bundle of relevant papers including such items as your claim form, any correspondence about your complaint, any significant invoices, bank statements and so on and your letter before action – the letter in which you threatened legal proceedings by a set deadline. Once ready you should send one copy bundle to the court, one to the defendant company and keep one for yourself. This preparatory work makes it much easier at the hearing to present easily and quickly your side of the story.
- The hearing itself is not to be feared. It usually takes place in a small room – a bit like a doctor’s surgery. At the head of the table will sit the district judge who should be addressed as “Sir”. He will not be dressed in any special judge-like robes. You will sit on one side of the table and your opponent will sit on the other. Because it is your claim, you will be invited to tell your version of the saga first and your opponent will then be invited to respond. There are no formal rules of evidence and the whole process is more akin to a discussion than the sort of court drama you have doubtless seen on television. At the end, after perhaps half an hour, the judge will make a ruling on the spot and to all intents and purposes, this decision is final and cannot be appealed against. If you win, an order is made for your opponent to pay your claim, usually within 14 days.