The small claims court – technically speaking, it is not a ‘court’ but a procedure within the County Court – is designed to serve as a low-cost, user-friendly forum for resolving disputes without the need for a lawyer. It usually only applies to claims for £5,000 or less (or £1,000 or less if the claim is for personal injury or housing repair). There has been talk of increasing the limit to £15,000.
Significantly, the normal ‘costs follow the event’ [HL] rule that applies in the UK civil courts doesn’t apply for small claims. This means that generally-speaking you can bring a legal claim without being exposed to paying the other sides’ legal costs, which can easily exceed the value of the claim, if your action fails (and, conversely, it means you can’t recover your cost of instructing a lawyer if you win). The Courts and Tribunals Service provides its own guide to using the small claims court (EX301: making a claim) [HL] and there is more information on www.direct.gov.uk. However, the loser will probably be ordered to pay the reasonable travelling expenses of the winner and the winner’s witnesses, their loss of earnings or allowance for staying away from home in connection with the hearing (this would catch taking work holiday time for attending court) which was capped for each of them at £50 a day but has been increased to a maximum of £90 a day as from 1 October 2011 ; and , if there has been an expert’s report, up to £200 for or towards this.
Thanks to District Judge Stephen Gold, who has presided over the small claims track for some 17 years, for allowing us to use his guide to the small claims process.