Making claims in the civil courts

Taking a case to court can quite an expensive exercise, even if you decide to 'do it yourself' and not use a lawyer to represent you in court. The will be a court fee based on the type and size of the claim, which can be claimed back from the order party if you win the case, but there is always the risk that you will lose the case and have to pay the other sides cost's. Even if you win, your problems may not be over as the other person, firm or company you are claiming from is likely to be able to pay.

If they are: the court may not be able to help you get your money. However, you may be able to get your money if you are prepared to accept small instalments over a period of time. If the case is complicated it could take years to complete and may cost hundreds or thousands of pounds. Given these problems, it is not surprising that many people who believe they have a good claim decide not to take court action. This is particularly true in cases of personal injury.

A study conducted by the Oxford Centre for socio-Legal studies, which was published in 1984, found that in a sample of 1,711 accident victims, only 14 per cent had consulted a solicitor, although another 8 per cent had obtained compensation without using lawyers. However, starting a court case does not mean that it will actually go to court. The vast majority of cases are settled out of court so that fewer than 5 per cent of all cases started in the civil courts get as far as a court hearing.

This is because the dispute is a private one between the parties involved and they can settle their own dispute at any time, even after court proceedings have been started. Small Claims – Obviously, it is important to have a relatively cheap and simple way of making a claim for a small amount of money, otherwise the costs of the action will be far more than the amount in dispute. For that reason the small claims procedure was started in 1973, and originally only claims up to i?? 75 could be made there. the limit has since been raised several times, especially in 1991, following the Civil Justice Review, when the limit was increased to i??

1,000; in 1996 the limit was increased to i?? 3,000; and in 1999 it became i?? 5,000. Problems – Although the small claims procedure is quicker, cheaper and simpler than using the main County Court, there are still problems. In particular there are still delays. This occurs most frequently where the opposing party asks for extra time because they are not ready, although there has been some criticism of the court service itself in some cases where papers have been lost or cases not put down on the list for a hearing. The hearing will take place during the day time so that the parties will probably have to take some time off to attend court.

If the case is finished in one hearing then this is not to big a problem, but often the claimant will need to go to court at least two or three times before the case is complete. Another problem is that although the initial fee for starting a claim is fairly small if the claim is small, all cases over i?? 1,000 from April 2000. There is also another problem that legal aid is not available. This means that while the intention of the court is that it should be informal and suitable for 'do-it-yourself' litigation, there are cases in which a litigant in person can find that the other side has instructed a lawyer.

This is most likely to happen where the other party is a business. As a result there may be an imbalance between the parties which is not always adequately compensated for by the District Judge in his 'interventionist' role. Some District Judges conduct the case in an informal way and are not very helpful to unrepresented claimants. john Baldwin, In his reasearch , Monitoring the rise of the Small Claims Limit, describes the extremely flexible role of the District Judge as leading to 'somewhat rough-and-ready judicial methods'. Finally there is the problem of enforcing the judgement.

Once the court has given judgement it is up to the claimant to 'chase' for the money. So it is quite possible that you may win your case but still find that you have to spend more time and money on trying to actually get the money from the losing party. In March 1996 the National Audit Office reported that 94 per cent of claimants won their case and got judgement against the defendant. However, only 54 per cent actually received any money in satisfaction of that judgement. Indeed one of three successfull litigants did not manage to get any money from the defendant.