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What happens at a small claims hearing

This content applies to England & Wales

The small claims procedure.

The procedure for small claims is very similar but less formal than the procedure for cases heard in the judge's room (chambers), therefore many of the points explained in the page The hearing will apply. The main differences are as follows:

  • the strict rules of evidence do not apply (although relevant documents should be brought and it may still be useful to bring witnesses along)
  • in many cases it will not be necessary to give evidence on oath
  • the judge has discretion about procedure and may adopt any method s/he considers fair. S/he will make sure that both parties have the opportunity to speak
  • the judge is more likely to intervene and ask questions. S/he should also explain any legal terms used
  • although solicitors are sometimes involved, this should not be necessary and should not prejudice the unrepresented party
  • there is a right to lay representation
  • the parties usually pay most of their own costs (see the section on Costs).

Despite the informality, it is still important to be well prepared for the case. Written statements are a useful aid to the judge, and legal points are still relevant and should be brought to her/his attention. Documentary evidence should also be produced, particularly where there is any dispute about the facts. The judge will still be bound by the law and is not able to make orders to rectify unfairness if the law does not allow for this.

For more information on the process for bringing small claims see the page Allocating a case to a track.

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