Any court proceedings that you commence with a financial value of less than £5000 will be dealt with by the courts as a ‘small claim’. This means that your case will be subject to more simple court procedures.
The small claims procedure is designed to be simple enough to enable parties to use it without legal representation. However, if your case is not presented persuasively, then you may not achieve the desired outcome. This is especially important where, despite its relatively low financial value, there are other factors requiring you to be successful in your case, such as the need to assert yourself within the industry or where there is an important point of fact, reputation, law or internal procedure.
Many small claims are poorly prepared. This leaves a busy judge with the difficult task of deciding what may be a reasonably complex dispute, with little paperwork and poor evidence in place. Consequently, if your case is prepared properly and persuasively, then a judge is more likely to find in your favour.
There are a number of simple ways in which you can prepare your case properly. The first task is to make sure that you have obtained and collated all of the relevant documents. When you have done that, you should put the documents in a folder in a neat and easily identifiable manner. You should then number each page of the documents and provide a list at the start of the bundle describing what each document is and highlighting at what pages of the bundle of documents that documents can be found.
You should ensure that disputed factual points are backed up with written documents and, where appropriate, witness evidence. Also, set out what the witnesses will say at court in a written document (a witness statement). However, do not focus on irrelevancies or get caught up in the emotion of the case. Instead, make sure that you ensure that your witness statements are ‘focused’.
It pays to provide a summary explanation of your case that a judge can read before the small claims hearing takes place. This could be a one or two page letter with concise, easily understood and clearly numbered paragraphs. Fundamentally, the easier your explanation is to understand in a short space of time, the better it is for a busy Judge. In turn, the better it is for a busy Judge, the more likely he or she is to be impressed with your case. This is often the advantage to be gained by using a solicitor to present your case. However, as only very limited legal costs are recoverable in small claims cases, the cost of doing so may be prohibitive. Nevertheless, a review of your papers by a solicitor before the hearing can often help.