Solicitors in Essex, Colchester, Chelmsford, London – Fisher Jones Greenwood
Services for you

Our solicitors offer friendly and professional legal advice over a wide range of areas and issues. From our network of offices across Essex and London we are able to help you and your family in all walks of life, no matter when it is that you are in need of a solicitor.

Civil Disputes

With over 40 years experience, our dedicated Civil Litigation team can offer comprehensive help and advice in the following areas:

  • Injuries at Work
  • Road Accidents
  • Will & Inheritance Disputes
  • Consumer & Debt
  • Court Representation
  • Building Disputes
  • Mediation
  • Actions against Police & Other Authorities

Whether you are seeking initial advice or are in need of independent advice, we can provide the information you need. We will save you time and money, leaving you to relax safe in the knowledge that you are in safe and experienced hands.

‘No Win No Fee’

We are able to offer Conditional Fee Agreements (CFA) for most Personal Injury claims. Please contact us or check out our quick guide to CFA’s here.

Contact Us

To find out more about our civil litigation services or to discuss any legal problem, please contact either:-

Christopher Yemm – 01206 835250 or via email at cyemm@fjg.co.uk; or
Jane Hammond – 01206 835252 or via email at jhammond@fjg.co.uk

With offices in Fleet Street, Chelmsford, Colchester, Billericay and Clacton-on-Sea, Fisher Jones Greenwood is ideally positioned to serve clients throughout Essex and Central London.

Comments by our clients

“Efficient, informative and to the point and would be quite happy to use your services again should the need arise.”

At Fisher Jones Greenwood we have a range of services and personnel to suit all pockets and types of case.

We are authorised by the Legal Services Commission to conduct court cases on Legal Aid. Visit our Legal Aid pages to see if you qualify.

We operate “no win no fee” agreements in appropriate cases. Go to our Accidents and Injury section for more details.

We will agree a fixed price with you for advice, taking a particular step in the action or attending a hearing. For further details contact civildisputes@fjg.co.uk or telephone 01206 835250.

Before taking Court proceedings to recover money owed to you, you should try and explore every possible alternative. Although making a claim for a sum less than £10,000 is not particularly expensive it can be time consuming, frustrating and at the end of the day, unsuccessful.

You may need help in bringing the claim from a solicitor. If the value of the claim is less than £10,000 (£1,000 for personal injury claims) you will not be able to recover those solicitors costs from your opponent.

You also need to consider whether the other party has sufficient assets and resources to be able to pay you the amount ordered.

If someone is unemployed, is bankrupt or has other debts and no property of their own even the Court may not be able to get money for you.

If you want to check whether someone is bankrupt or owes money to other people which has not been paid you can search the bankruptcy and insolvency register.

A Court case may take many months to resolve and even when an award is made the money due is often not payable straight away but over a period of time.

For these reasons making a claim through the Courts should be your last resort. Before going ahead you should try to speak to the person who owes you money and write them a letter setting out what is owed, requesting payment and threatening to take Court proceedings in the absence of a satisfactory reply.

Winning a Claim

If you go to Court and win the case so that judgment is entered against the other party this is not the end of the matter. You still have to extract the money from that other person. The Court will usually make an Order there and then for immediate payment or payment by instalments. If the other party does not comply with that Order you will have to try and enforce it through the Courts. This will involve further Court fees. A number of alternative methods of enforcing the judgment are available to you as set out in the section headed “enforcing a claim”.

If you are successful in defending a claim this will be because the claim against you has either been “dismissed” by the Judge (after a hearing) or “struck out” (without a hearing). In either case the Court will send you written confirmation that the claim against you has been unsuccessful and has finished.

If someone makes a claim against you, you must respond to it. It will not go away – do not ignore it. If you do nothing, a judgment may be entered against you and may affect your ability to obtain credit.

If the Claim Form includes “Particulars of Claim” you must reply within 14 days of receiving the papers. The Court will send you a “Response Pack” with the Claim Form. This contains information about how to complete and return the form.

The Response Pack contains several reply options depending on whether you admit the claim, admit the claim but cannot pay it, deny the claim or deny part of the claim. You should complete the form carefully to ensure that the Court understands exactly what your reply to the claim is meant to be.

If you need more time to consider the claim – because for example you want to take legal advice – you should complete the Acknowledgement of Service form and return it to the Court. This extends your time for filing a Defence to the claim to 28 days.

If you wish to allege that the Claimant owes you money you should say so in the form that you send back to the Court. If the amount that you are claiming exceeds the amount being claimed against you you will have to pay a Court fee. Click here for details.

The most important thing to remember is that you must reply one way or the other. If you do not do so you may find the County Court Bailiff on your doorstep. The Bailiff can remove items belonging to you to satisfy a judgment obtained against you.

Settling a Claim

Many cases are settled without a Court hearing. This avoids unnecessary costs. It is always better to try and reach an agreement with someone who owes you money or to whom you owe money rather than have a decision imposed on you by the Court.

If you can settle the case between you – and the majority of cases do settle in this way – you can both write in to the Court setting out what has been agreed as to amount and time for payment. There is a fee payable of £100.00. The Court will usually approve that arrangement and issue an Order in the agreed terms so that if they are not complied with they can be enforced by the Court.

Most Courts now require you to try and settle cases without a Court hearing using mediation. This involves a “round table” meeting where both parties are encouraged and assisted to reach their own settlement agreement by a Court appointed Mediator. Check with your local County Court to see whether this alternative is available to you.

Chris Yemm of FJG is a CEDR approved mediator with considerable experience of the mediation process. Contact him at disputeresolution@fjg.co.uk for further information.

Losing a Claim

If you take someone to Court and are unsuccessful in obtaining the money claimed you will have to pay their legal costs (if the claim exceeds £10,000 or £1,000 for personal injury cases).

If the claim is less than £10,000 (or £1,000 for personal injury cases) you will not have to pay any legal costs but will have to pay their lost earnings and travel expenses in attending Court.

If you lose a claim that you have defended, a judgment will be entered against you for the amount claimed together with legal costs (if the claim is over £10,000 or £1,000 for personal injury).

If you cannot pay the judgment or costs you should take advice from FJG or your local Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

If you have been ordered to pay the judgment as a lump sum you may be able to arrange to pay it by instalments.

If you have been ordered to pay the judgment by instalments that you cannot afford you may be able to pay by smaller instalments.

In either case you can apply to the Court on Form N245 to review the terms of payment.

You must act promptly.

If you have no hope of paying the judgment you may have to consider making yourself Bankrupt or subject to an Administration Order (available where your debts do not exceed £5,000).

Either of these steps has serious consequences for your ability to obtain credit. You should always take legal advice before making such an application. Click here to contact us for further details.

If an application has already been made to enforce the judgment you will have to apply to the Court to suspend or vary any order that has been made. See enforcing a claim.

Setting aside a judgment

If a judgment has been obtained against you without your knowledge you can apply to the Court to have it set aside.

You should contact the Court as soon as you learn of the judgment and obtain an “application form” (Form N244) on which you must set out the reasons for wanting to set aside the judgment You will need to support this with a “statement of truth” and pay a fee of £255.00.

If enforcement proceedings have been issued against you you will also need to apply for a “stay” or “suspension” of those proceedings until the Court can deal with your application to set aside the judgment at a hearing.

If you did not receive any of the Court papers – because the papers have not been property served e.g. you have moved address – you are entitled to have the judgment set aside as of right.

If there is some other reason why you want the judgment set aside the Judge will consider your request at a hearing and may or may not agree to the judgment being set aside. Before doing so a Judge will want to be satisfied that you have an arguable defence to the claim.

If the Judge sets aside the judgment you will be required to send to the Court a written Defence setting out the reasons why you do not accept the judgment that has been made against you. The Judge may also impose other conditions such as the payment of a sum of money into Court – in return for allowing you to set aside the judgment.

Appeals

If you are dissatisfied with a judgment you can appeal against it. You should:-

  1. Act quickly – there are limited time periods within which you must appeal
  2. Think carefully about the extra costs that may be incurred if your appeal is unsuccessful
  3. Take legal advice as to whether you have proper grounds for an appeal
  4. Check whether you need permission to appeal
  5. Contact the Court in which the judgment was made against you for leaflet EX340 which sets out the steps that you need to take

Appeals which have no real prospect of success simply prolong the agony and increase costs. Be sure to take legal advice before committing yourself and your opponent to an Appeal.

Satisfying a judgment

If a judgment is obtained against you should:-

  • Pay it promptly failing which it will become a registered judgment
  • Obtain a receipt for all payments made
  • If you are unable to pay the judgment as ordered apply to the other party or in default to the Court for time to pay. Even if your opponent is unreasonable the Court will usually listen to a realistic proposal for payment
  • Not ignore it – it will not go away!

Next Steps

Enforcing a Claim

There are a number of ways of enforcing a claim:

Registering a Judgment

If someone fails to pay a County Court judgment within the time stipulated by the Judge, details of that judgment will be entered on the Register of County Court judgments. Those entries stay on the Register for 6 years. The fact that a judgment has been registered against someone makes it difficult for that person to obtain credit.

Although a paid judgment can be marked as “satisfied” a judgment can only be removed from the Register with the agreement of the Court. Not all judgments are easily removed and it is better to avoid them being registered in the first place. If you want to know how to remove a judgment from the Register please contact civildisputes@fjg.co.uk or telephone 01206 835250 .

Warrant of Execution

This is a request to the County Court Bailiff to call at the Debtor’s home or business premises and remove goods for sale. The purpose of the Warrant is to recover sufficient money to pay off the amount outstanding under a judgment. Second hand goods do not make very much money when sold in this way and the process can be very time consuming.

If you want to request a Warrant of Execution you must send a completed form (N323) to the Court with a fee of £100 (where the sum to be recovered is more than £125).

A Warrant of Execution will only issue in the County Court for sums up to £5,000. If the amount involved is greater you will need to transfer the judgment. to the High Court and ask the Sheriff to enforce the judgment for you. With an amount of this size it is advisable to obtain legal advice before proceeding.

A Bailiff cannot force his way into a Debtor’s premises in order to enforce a judgment. A Bailiff cannot remove items which the Debtor needs for his job or business such as tools of his trade. A Bailiff cannot take essential household items such as clothing or bedding. A Bailiff cannot take items which do not belong to the Debtor because for example they are rented or on hire purchase.

Many Debtors confronted with a Warrant of Execution will apply to suspend the Warrant and make an offer of payment by instalments. You will be informed of that offer which if not accepted will be the subject of a Court hearing to decide whether it is a fair proposal or not.

If the Bailiff is unable to remove sufficient items to cover the amount of your claim you may ask him to try other addresses but will have to pay a further fee. Although the Bailiff’s fees are added to your claim and payable by the Debtor they are not returned to you if no money is recovered.

Attachment of Earnings

An Attachment of Earnings Order is an Order sent by the Court to the Debtor’s employer requiring him to deduct money from a Debtor’s wages each pay day and send it to the Court who pass it on to the Creditor.

An Attachment of Earnings Order cannot be made if the Debtor is unemployed, self-employed, in the Armed Forces or a Merchant Seaman.

If the Debtor is in regular employment you should request an Attachment of Earnings Order by completing Form N337 and sending this in to the Court with the fee of £100. The Court will then send the Debtor a form to complete about his or her income and outgoings. If the Debtor does not return the form the Court can require him or her to attend personally before the Judge and if this Order is disregarded the Debtor can be arrested and ultimately sent to prison if he or she fails to co-operate.

At the hearing – or on considering the returned form – the Judge will set a normal weekly or monthly deduction and a “Protected Earnings Rate”. This is the amount that the Judge considers the Debtor needs to live on. If the Debtor’s earnings fall below the Protected Earnings Rate in any week or month the normal deduction will not apply.

An Attachment of Earnings Order is a very effective method of enforcement against Debtors who are in regular and responsible employment.

Third Party Debt Order

A Third Party Debt Order is an Order freezing money owed to the Debtor by another person. If the Debtor has money in a bank or building society account in excess of the amount owed that money can be frozen and paid into Court for the benefit of the Judgment Creditor.

A Third Party Debt Order is obtained by completing Form N349 and sending it to the Court together with a fee of £100.

If a Judge is satisfied with the information that you have provided he will make an interim Third Party Debt Order. A copy is sent to you and to the Third Party and 7 days later sent to the Judgment Debtor. The effect is to ‘freeze’ the money in the Debtor’s account with the Third Party.

The Court also fixes a hearing date at which it considers whether to confirm the Third Party Debt Order, ie, to confirm whether or not the money in the bank or building society account should be paid into Court by the Third Party.

The bank or building society to whom a Third Party Debt Order is sent is entitled to deduct a fixed amount, currently £55, to cover their own expenses. The Creditor will only recover the amount of his debt if there is sufficient money in an account in the Debtor’s sole name to cover both those expenses and the debt.

A Third Party Debt Order is a very good way of enforcing a County Court Judgment if you have had previous dealings with the Debtor and have details of his or her bank account.

Charging Order

A Charging Order is an order made by the Court that “charges” land or securities (such as stocks and shares) with payment of the judgment debt.

The most common Charging Order is against land owned by the Debtor whether in his or her sole name or jointly with another person.

If you know that the Debtor owns land you can ask the Court to make a Charging Order against the Debtor’s interest in that land by completing form N379 which sets out:-

  • the name and address of the Debtor;
  • the name and address of the Judgment Creditor;
  • the amount of the debt
  • the address of the property to be “charged”;
  • the reasons why you believe the Debtor has an interest in the land.

This form is sent to the Court together with the fee of £100. If the Judge is satisfied that the Debtor appears to own an interest in land he will make an Interim Charging Order against the Debtor and fix a hearing at which he will decide whether to make that Charging Order Final. He will only make the order Final if satisfied that the Debtor does have an interest in the land in question.

Once an Interim Charging Order has been made it should be registered either at the Land Charges Registry or the Land Registry depending upon whether title to the land is registered or not. You should seek legal advice about how to do this since the charge is only effective against other creditors once it has been registered.

Once a Charging Order has been registered it can be enforced by a sale of the property in question but often it is simply left as a secured debt which has to be paid as and when the property is sold, particularly if there are young children living in the property.

Order to obtain informtion from a debtor

Very often a Judgment Creditor will not have any up to date information about a Debtor’s financial circumstances. To find out more the debtor can be required to attend Court and give evidence on oath about those circumstances. Once that information is known the judgment Creditor will be in a better position to decide how to enforce his or her judgment.

An Order to obtain information from a debtor is requested by lodging Form N316 with the Court together with a fee of £50. The Judgment Debtor will be ordered to attend Court and answer questions about his or her finances. Failure to do so can lead to imprisonment.

Judgement Summons

If a debt relates to unpaid maintenance under a Court Order the Judgment Creditor can apply for a Judgment Summons.

You will need to complete a Request for Judgment Summons (Form N342) and pay a fee of £100.

The Court will fix a hearing date which the Debtor will be required to attend. At the hearing the Debtor will have to answer questions on oath and may be ordered to pay the debt by instalments.

If the Judge is satisfied that the Debtor has the ability to pay the debt but is simply refusing to do so he or she can be sent to prison.

If the Debtor fails to attend the hearing the Court can issue a Warrant for his or her arrest.

A Judgment Summons is a good method of enforcing matrimonial maintenance payments where the Debtor is a professional person and his or her refusal to pay is motivated by an unwillingness, rather than an inability, to pay.

Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy can be a very effective threat where the Judgment Debtor is a small business man or company director.

The debt needs to be more than £5000 before bankruptcy proceedings can be started.

The first step is to serve on the debtor a “Statutory Demand” which sets out why you say that money is due and details of the judgment obtained.

If the debt is not paid within 3 weeks of serving the Statutory Demand you can “Petition” the Court for a Bankruptcy Order to be made against the Debtor.

You must complete and send to the Debtor’s local Court a “Creditor’s Petition” and a Court fee of £280. In addition to the Court fee you will have to pay a deposit to the Court of £990 to cover the Official Receiver’s expenses in dealing with the Bankruptcy. This will be returned to you if no Bankruptcy order is made.

Bankruptcy is not a cheap option although if the Debtor avoids a Bankruptcy Order being made against him or her the deposit will be returned to you.

Once the Court receives the Creditor’s Petition, fee and proof of the Statutory Demand having been brought to the Debtor’s attention it will fix a date for the hearing of the bankruptcy Petition.

At the hearing the Court may:-

  • Adjourn to another date to give the Debtor time to pay the debt;
  • Make a Bankruptcy Order
  • Approve a proposal for payment.

If a Bankruptcy Order is made the Court will appoint a “Trustee in Bankruptcy” who is a member of the Official Receiver’s office to deal with the Debtor’s affairs.

Once a Debtor has been made bankrupt no other Court proceedings can be started against him. His “Trustee” will collect together his assets and debts and will share out any surplus between his creditors.

If the debtor has other secured creditors they take priority over your debt.

Bankruptcy is not necessarily the right choice of enforcement where the Debtor has lots of other creditors since there may not be enough money to go round. Since being made bankrupt prevents a person from acting as a Company Director it can be a useful weapon if they are just ‘playing for time’.

If the debtor is a limited company the equivalent proceedings are for a ” Winding Up Petition”. Please contact us for further details.

In this section we have set out answers to some commonly asked questions. For help or assistance with a particular problem contact us by email on civildisputes@fjg.co.uk or telephone 01206 835250.

Where do I start?

Contact Chris Yemm on 01206 835250 or by e-mail on civildisputes@fjg.co.uk for some initial advice. We will tell you whether or not you need a solicitor to help you with your case. If we think that you can deal with the case yourself we will tell you how to go about it.

Am I too late?

Different time limits for bringing Court proceedings apply to different types of case. If you have been injured as a result of an accident or medical mistake the claim must be brought within 3 years of the date upon which you had the necessary knowledge to bring a claim. This is not always clear cut. We will advise you on the correct date by which your claim must be issued in the Court. If you were under 18 at the time of the accident the 3 year period does not begin to run until you become 18.

If your claim is based on an agreement (“contract”) you must start Court proceedings within 6 years of the date of the breach of that contract. In certain circumstances – where the contract was written as a Deed – this period is extended to 12 years.

If you are alleging fault (“negligence”) on the part of your opponent proceedings must be issued within 6 years of the date of the negligence alleged.

Do I need a solicitor?

Not necessarily. We will tell you whether the case is one which you can deal with yourself or how you may need our help. We will explain the cost implications of using us.

High Court or County Court?

Usually a claim can only be started in the High Court if the value in dispute exceeds £100,000.00 or £50,000.00 in personal injury cases. The majority of civil disputes are therefore dealt with by the County Courts.

Which form do I use?

This depends upon what you are asking the Court to do. Most claims begin with the completion and filing of a form N1 “Claim Form”. You can obtain these forms from your local County Court or from the Court Service Website.

What is a Statement of Truth?

A Statement of Truth must be added to the end of:-

  1. a Claim Form
  2. a Particulars of Claim
  3. a Defence and Counterclaim
  4. an application on Notice
  5. a Witness Statement

The statement which normally reads “I believe that the facts stated in this [document] are true” must be signed by you.

The purpose of a Statement of Truth is to ensure that tentative and spurious claims and defences do not delay or prevent the fair and speedy resolution of claims.

What fee do I pay?

This depends upon what you are asking the Court to do. If you are receiving Income Support, Income based Jobseekers Allowance or are on a low income, you may be exempt from paying a fee.

What can I claim?

In addition to the amount that you are owed you can claim:-

  1. Interest at 8% per year or such higher rate as may be set out in your contract. If you want to claim interest it must be included in the Claim Form. If you are running a business you may be able to claim a higher rate of interest under the provisions of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998.
  2. The Court fee

If your claim is successful you will also be able to claim your travel expenses and loss of earnings for attending any Court hearing. You will also be able to claim travel expenses and lost earnings for any witnesses who attend Court on your behalf. The amount you can claim for lost earnings is restricted in small claims to £95.00.

You may also be able to claim for any expert report fees obtained to support your claim. The amount you can claim is restricted in small claims to £750.00 per expert.

If your claim is for more than £10,000 (£1,000 in personal injury cases) you can also recover a contribution towards your legal costs. This contribution will either be “fixed” if you obtain a judgment in default or “assessed” if your case is dealt with at a Court hearing.

Although legal costs are not normally recoverable in small claims the Court has power to award costs where one party has behaved unreasonably by:

  • not complying with Court protocols which exist for certain types of cases;
  • refusing to negotiate;
  • not co-operating with Court directions or orders;
  • making unnecessary applications.

What about interest?

You can claim interest whether your claim is for a fixed amount or an unspecified amount. The present rate is 8% per year from the date upon which you should have received your money from the other party. You should calculate the daily rate of interest and show this in your Particulars of Claim so that after the final hearing the total amount of interest due to you can be calculated. To find the daily rate of interest simply multiply the amount of your claim by 8%, divide by 365 and multiply that figure by the number of days since the money should have been paid to you.

If you are running a small business i.e. employing 50 or less staff you may wish to take advantage of the Late payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998. This gives small businesses the right to claim a higher rate of interest on commercial debts which are paid late.

All businesses (not just small ones) and the public sector are able to claim late payment interest against all other businesses and the public sector.

A commercial debt is a debt which results from an agreement made between 2 businesses for the supply of goods or services.

If however the agreement provides for interest at a particular rate on an overdue payment this will usually override the legal right to “late payment interest”.

If the agreement does not specify a rate of interest “late payment interest” becomes due if a debt remains outstanding after any agreed credit period ends.

If the agreement does not provide for a specific rate of interest or any agreed credit period “late payment interest” accrues on payments outstanding for more than 30 calendar days after:

  • the date of the invoice
  • the date of delivery of the goods or
  • the date of performance of the service

whichever is the later.

The claim for “late payment interest” must be included in your Claim Form. It is calculated at the rate of the Bank of England Base Rate plus 8% per year.

The Court will send a copy of your Claim Form and “Response Pack” to the other party by First Class post. The Court will also send you a Notice of Issue (Form N205) confirming the date by which the other party must respond.

A number of things may follow:

  • First, the Defendant may have moved address. In this case the Court will tell you that the Claim Form has not been served and how you can take steps to serve it yourself. The Summons must be served on the other party within 4 months of the date upon which it was issued or longer if the defendant is abroad.
  • Secondly, the Defendant may ignore the Claim Form – see “How do I deal with a Defence”.
  • Thirdly, the Defendant may admit the whole or part of your claim – see “How do I deal with a Defence”.

Fourthly, the Defendant may dispute or “defend” the whole or part of your claim – see “How do I deal with a Defence”.

How do I deal with a Defence or Admission?

  1. If the Debtor does not reply to the Claim Form by the date notified to you in the Notice of Issue and you have claimed a specific amount of money you can ask the Court to enter judgment against the Debtor. You must complete Form N30 and send it to the Court who will fix the amount and time within which the Debtor has to pay your claim.
  2. If you did not specify an amount of money in your Claim Form and the Debtor does not reply by the time stipulated in the Notice of Issue you must complete Form N205B and return it to the Court with a request for judgment in Form N227. The Judge will then consider the case and decide whether a Court hearing is necessary and what further information he needs to decide how much you should receive.
  3. The Judge will issue an Order setting out the information that he needs and the time within which it must be provided. He may also fix a hearing called “disposal hearing” which you must attend.
  4. The Debtor may dispute all or part of your claim.

If he or she needs extra time to reply to your claim a Form N9 (Acknowledgement of Service) can be filed which extends the time for reply to 28 days from the date upon which the Claim Form was served on him. The Court will tell you if an Acknowledgement of Service is filed and the date upon which a Defence must also be filed.

The Court will tell you when a Defence has been filed. At the same time the Court will send you and the Debtor a Form N150 (Allocation Questionnaire) and Form N152 (Notice of Defence).

If the Defendant admits only part of your claim the Court will send you a Form N225A which asks you to tell the Court whether you agree with what is being said.

If you do not accept the part admission the claim will proceed as a defended one.

If you accept what the Debtor says you can ask the Court to enter judgment for the agreed amount.

If you agree with what the Debtor is saying about the amount but not his or her proposal for payment you can ask the Court to fix a different rate of payment by returning the completed Form N225A to the Court.

What is disclosure?

Disclosure and inspection is the process of showing the other party the documents that you rely on in support of your claim. Under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 you are required to disclose those documents which:-

  1. support your claim;
  2. undermine or oppose your claim;
  3. support the other party’s claim.

You must make a reasonable search for these documents. What is reasonable depends on:-

  1. the number of documents involved;
  2. the nature and complexity of your claim;
  3. the difficulty or expense of finding the documents and the relevance of the documents to your claim.

You should list the documents that you intend to disclose on Form N265.

Once you and the other party have exchanged Lists of Documents you can ask for copies of any documents that you have not previously seen but you will have to pay the copying charges. This is known as “inspection”.

What is an Allocation Questionnaire?

When a Defence is filed the Court needs to decide whether the case is suitable for the Small Track, Fast Track or Multi Track procedure. It therefore sends out a questionnaire called an “Allocation” Questionnaire (Form N150) to both parties which requests information to help the Judge decide the best way of dealing with the case. If an Allocation Questionnaire is not returned by either party the Court may “strike out” the claim (if the Claimant is at fault) or the Defence (if the Debtor is at fault).

What is the Small Claims Court?

If the claim is for less than £10,000 (or for personal injury or housing repair for less than £1,000) it will normally be allocated to the “Small Claims Track” or “Small Claims Court”.

The Small Claims Court is that part of the County Court designed to enable you to deal with small value cases yourself without the assistance of a solicitor.

The advantages of the Small Claims Court are:-

  1. The Judge will adopt a simple and informal procedure at the hearing
  2. Legal costs are not normally recoverable from the unsuccessful party
  3. Court fees are recoverable
  4. Lost earnings of up to £95 per day are recoverable for you and your witnesses
  5. Expert fees of up to £750.00 per expert for attending Court are recoverable
  6. The case proceeds to an early hearing with limited exchange of documents.
  7. The case can be dealt with without a hearing
  8. The right of Appeal is limited to mistakes of law by the Judge or where a “serious irregularity” has occurred.

The Small Claims Track is intended to be a quick and cheap way of resolving smaller claims.

What is the Fast track?

The Fast Track is for cases that a Judge considers can be disposed of in a single day of Court time (5 hours). It is for cases valued at between £10,000 -£25,000 (£1,000 – £25,000 in personal injury claims).

If a case is allocated to the Fast Track the Court will issue “directions” for the conduct of the claim leading up to a hearing. The Court aims to hear cases within around 30 weeks.

The standard directions issued by the Court relate to limited or “standard” disclosure and inspection of documents, the exchange of witness statements, the exchange of expert reports and the filing of Listing Questionnaires. These directions will vary slightly from Court to Court and depending upon the type of case.

All directions fixing a date and time by which various steps are to be taken must be strictly complied with.

In Fast Track cases legal costs and Court fees are recoverable from the unsuccessful party although the recoverable trial costs are limited.

What is the Multi track?

The Multi track is for the more complicated cases which:-

  • have a value in excess of £25,000
  • are worth less than £25,000 but are particularly complex
  • require more than “standard” disclosure
  • require oral expert evidence at the trial

What is a Case Management conference?

From time to time the Court, particularly in Multi track cases, the Judge may fix a “Case Management Conference” which is an informal meeting of the parties and the Judge to review the progress of the case. At the conference the Judge will want to know:-

  • what steps have been taken to prepare the case for trial;
  • whether previous directions have been complied with;
  • whether any problems have arisen over disclosure or delay in obtaining evidence;
  • whether any parts of the case can be agreed;
  • what costs are being incurred by both parties;
  • what further directions are required to make the case ready for a final hearing.

These days such conferences are often conducted over the telephone with the court.

What is a listing questionnaire?

A Listing Questionnaire is a form N170 sent out by the Court requesting information to enable the Court to fix a date for the final hearing. In particular, it requests information about witnesses availability, the time estimate for the trial and whether all “directions” have been complied with.

How long will the case take?

Small claims are usually dealt with within 4 to 5 months of the issue of proceedings. Much depends upon whether Court Orders are complied with promptly and how busy the Court is at any one time.

Fast track claims are usually dealt with between 9 and 12 months of issue.

Multi track cases, particularly personal injury claims which require settled medical evidence to be obtained may last for between 2 and 3 years.

Are there any short cuts?

  1. Application for summary judgment
  2. Judgment in default
  3. Resolving a Specific Issue
  4. Striking out a claim or Defence

There are a number of short cuts which may be available to shorten the length of your case. Making them is not straightforward and may have adverse costs implications if you take the other party to Court prematurely and are unsuccessful. You should always obtain legal advice before taking one of the following short cuts:-

1. Application for summary judgment

This is now also available in the small claims court.

An application for summary judgment can be made if you believe as a Claimant that the Debtor has no real prospect of successfully defending the claim or as a Debtor that the Claimant has no real prospect of succeeding with his claim.

To apply for summary judgment you must obtain and complete Form N244 from the Court. You should also prepare a statement setting out why you think the other party will lose. You must pay a fee of £255.00. You must send a copy of your application and statement to the Court and to the other party not less than 7 days before any hearing fixed to decide the issue.

At the hearing of your application the Court can:-

  • enter judgment for you;
  • strike out the other party’s claim;
  • make an order that the other party pays an amount of money into Court as a precondition for carrying on;
  • dismiss your claim.

If you think that you may be able to apply for summary judgment contact us for further information.

2. Judgment in default

If the other party does not return the Acknowledgement of Service form or a Defence within the time specified on the Notice of Issue you can apply for judgment in default by completing and returning Form N225 or N227 to the Court (depending upon whether you are claiming a specified or unspecified amount).

If the other party admits part or all of your claim you can enter judgment for the amount that is admitted.

You cannot obtain judgment in default if your claim is:-

  • for the delivery of goods which are subject to a Consumer Credit Act 1974 agreement;
  • money secured by a mortgage;
  • a probate case;
  • a Specific Issue claim known as a “Part 8” procedure.

3. Resolving a Specific Issue

If you think that your case does not involve a major dispute of fact you may be able to use an alternative procedure known as the “Part 8 Procedure”.

This is appropriate where:-

  • there is a specific problem that you want the Court to consider before you start proceedings or
  • you want an order for disclosure of medical records before starting proceedings for personal injury.

You will need to file Form N208 with the Court and pay a fee. Although the other party must acknowledge the Part 8 Claim form no Defence is filed – the Court instead fixes a hearing date to consider the issue that you wish to have resolved.

4. Striking out a claim or Defence

If you think that the other party’s Statement of Case is insufficiently argued (a bare denial), irrelevant, without foundation or downright rude, you can ask the Court to strike it out.

You will need to file an application Form 244 together with a statement setting out the reasons why you consider the claim or Defence should be struck out. You will need to pay a fee of £255.00.

The Court will fix a hearing at which the Judge will consider your application and anything that the other party has to say in reply.

In addition to striking out a claim or Defence if one or other party requests it, the Judge also has power to strike out “of his own motion” i.e. himself just by reading the papers.

Where is the court?

County Courts are often part of larger Court complexes but in the smaller towns can be hidden away above shoe shops! If in doubt telephone the Court in advance of the hearing to obtain instructions and leave yourself plenty of time to get to Court on the day.

Click here for the address and telephone number of your County Court.

Will there be a hearing?

There will usually be a hearing which you and the other party will have to attend. If you do not attend without good reason the Judge can deal with the case in your absence and strike it out.

If a Judge believes on reading a Defence filed to your claim that he can deal with the case “on paper” he will notify you and the other party and ask for observations. He is not bound to fix a hearing.

Do I need a solicitor for the hearing?

Do not panic! Remember that solicitor’s costs are only recoverable from the other party if your claim exceeds £10,000 (£1,000 for personal injury and housing repair cases). This is a deliberate attempt to encourage people to settle their disputes without having legal representation.

If you have dealt with the case on your own so far there is no reason why you should not be able to deal with a small claims hearing without a solicitor. The whole point of the small claims track is to provide a cheap and speedy resolution of claims. You will not be prejudiced or disadvantaged if you do not have a solicitor present.

If you case is proceeding on the fast track or multi track you should consult a solicitor and should consider being represented by a solicitor at the final hearing.

This is because the fast track and multi track trial hearings are much more formal and strict rules of evidence will be applied. In addition the sums involved on both the fast track and multi track cases justify the involvement of a solicitor. This is reflected in the fact that legal costs are recoverable from the other party in those cases.

I'm disabled - will I cope?

If you have a particular disability which makes going to Court or making yourself heard or understood difficult you should contact the Court where the hearing will take place, in advance.

On the day of the hearing you should remind the Court Usher of your disability so that he or she can forewarn the Judge. For further information you can contact the Court Service Disability Helpline on 0800 358 3506 during normal weekday hours. Calls are free.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing you can use the minicom service on 0191 478 1476.

Who should attend?

Both you and any witnesses and experts upon whose evidence you intend to rely should attend the Court hearing in person.

What should I wear?

You will be appearing in a Court of Law and it is only right that you should show respect to the Court in your dress at the hearing. In the small claims Court however Judges are often asked to resolve disputes between working men and their customers. Hearings may well be fixed for a 30 minute slot in the middle of the day and you will not be prejudiced in any way if you have to turn up at Court in your working clothes provided that you give the Judge an appropriate explanation.

Can I have an interpreter?

If English is not your main language and you feel that you require the services of an interpreter at the hearing you must make your own arrangements. The Court will not provide an interpreter for you. You should make sure that the Court is aware of your need for an interpreter so that an appropriate allowance can be made for the increased length of the hearing.

Can my friend come with me?

Going to Court for the first time can be nerve-racking. It is a good idea to take a friend with you for moral support. Unless the friend is going to present the case for you (in which case you will need to obtain the Judge’s permission in advance and be limited as to what you can yourself say) your friend, although entitled to sit inside the Court (which in most cases is now a public hearing) will not be allowed to take any part in the proceedings.

What happens at the hearing?

At the hearing the Judge will listen to what both parties have to say. Both parties will have an opportunity of asking questions of the other and the Judge will ask any questions that he considers helpful to enable him to come to a decision. In the small claims track the Judge will not normally allow formal submissions but will ensure that both you and the other party have an opportunity of adding anything further that you wish to say before he comes to a decision. Occasionally in difficult cases Judges will not give a decision straight away but will “reserve” judgment. This is not very common and you can normally expect to come away from the hearing with a decision having been made.

When will I get my money?

If a judgment is made in your favour the Judge will stipulate the time within which the amount awarded to you has to be paid.

If the money is not paid within that time you will have to take steps to enforce the judgment Refer to the section entitled “enforcing a claim” for further details.

Being a witness

Many people shy away from going to a Court as a witness for someone else. This is usually because of time pressures or “not wanting to be involved”.

If you are concerned about having to attend Court either in the High Court or the County Court you can obtain a leaflet form EX341 from your local County Court which sets out in detail your rights and obligations.

If you receive a Witness Summons to attend Court do not ignore it. You could be fined for “contempt”.