Commencement of the claim
A claim is started by the Claimant (the party bringing the claim) sending or delivering to the Court a Claim Form and Particulars of Claim together with payment of the Court fee.
The Claim Form is a standard document which contains details of the parties and briefly describes the nature of the claim. The Particulars of Claim set out in more detail what the claim is about.
Claims worth less than £25,000 should normally be commenced in the County Court and claims of £25,000 or above should normally be commenced in the High Court.
Once the Court has received the Claim Form, Particulars of Claim and payment of the Court fee it will “issue” (stamp) the documents.
The Court will normally serve the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim on the Defendant (the party against whom the claim is brought) by sending them by first class post. At the same time the Court will send the Defendant a Response Pack. The Response Pack explains to the Defendant what it needs to do next and contains various forms for it to fill in.
If the Court serves the documents on the Defendant it will send to the Claimant a Notice of Issue confirming that the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim have been issued and served on the Defendant and specifying the date upon which the Defendant is required to respond.
The Defendant’s response
The Defendant has 14 days from the date of “deemed service” (in the case of service by first class post the date of deemed service will be the second business day after the documents were posted) to respond to the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim.
The Defendant can respond in one of the following ways:
By filing an Admission
If the Defendant does not dispute the claim it should complete and send to the Court a form called an Admission. If an Admission is filed the Claimant can ask the Court to enter judgment.
By filing a Defence
If the Defendant disputes the claim it should send to the Court and the Claimant a Defence. A Defence sets out in detail the reasons why the Defendant disputes the claim.
If the Defendant wishes to bring a Counterclaim against the Claimant it should serve its Counterclaim at the same time as it serves its Defence.
By filing an Acknowledgment of Service
An Acknowledgment of Service is a form in which the Defendant indicates its intention to defend all or part of the claim. If the Defendant files an Acknowledgment of Service it will have an additional 14 days in which to file a Defence.
Failure by the Defendant to respond
If the Defendant fails to respond to the Claim Form and Particulars of Claim the Claimant can file a Request for Judgment in Default with the Court.
Allocation of the claim where a Defence is served
If the Defendant serves a Defence the Court will normally make an Order requiring the parties to file Allocation Questionnaires by a date specified in the Order.
The purpose of the Allocation Questionnaire is to enable the Court to gain a better understanding of the case to enable it to ensure that the case is dealt with in an effective manner and to ensure that the appropriate level of Court resources are given to the case.
Once the parties have completed and returned to the Court the Allocation Questionnaires the Court will allocate the claim to a “track”.
There are 3 tracks – the Small Claims Track, the Fast Track and the Multi-Track. Normally claims for £5,000 or less are allocated to the Small Claims Track, claims between £5,001 and £25,000 are allocated to the Fast Track and claims over £25,000 are allocated to the Multi-Track.
The Court will normally make an Order giving “directions” when it allocates a claim to a track. Directions are the procedural steps required to prepare a case for the eventual trial or final hearing. Often a direction is given for the proceedings to be “stayed” (put on hold) to enable the parties to try and reach a settlement of the claim.
For claims allocated to the Small Claims Track the directions will usually simply require the parties to serve on each other and send to the Court copies of any documents upon which they intend to rely (including witness statements) by a certain date. Normally a date for the small claims hearing is specified in the Order giving the directions.
For claims allocated to the Fast Track and the Multi Track more detailed directions will normally be given. Typically these will require the parties to:
- Serve upon each other a List of Documents;
- Allow for the inspection of documents referred to in the Lists of Documents;
- Serve witness statements;
- File with the Court Pre-Trial Checklists;
- Agree a trial bundle and arrange for the same to be delivered to the Court.
The final hearing or trial
Fast Track and Multi-Track claims are decided at a “trial”. Claims allocated to the Small Claims Track are decided at a “final hearing”.
Small claims final hearings are usually fairly informal and are normally held in a District Judge’s office with the parties sitting around a table. Witnesses are not generally required to give their evidence under oath. Quite often the parties represent themselves.
Trials are much more formal than small claims final hearings. Legal arguments and the presentation of evidence will usually follow a set format and witnesses will normally be required to give their evidence under oath. Usually the parties will be represented by barristers.
At the end of the final hearing or trial the Judge will give a judgment, which will consist of his or her decision and the reasons for it. The parties will then be given the opportunity to make representations to enable the Judge to decide who should be awarded costs and how much they should be awarded. In the case of small claims successful parties are normally only awarded very limited sums by way of costs.