You do this by completing your claim form. Forms are available here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/global/forms/hmcts/index.htm. If your claim is less than £100,000 and the claim is not against more than two people you can issue your claim online: moneyclaim.gov.uk.
To continue the example of Mrs Smith [HL]. She starts her case in her local county court or on-line. The form is posted to Green & Co by the court.
Which of the following sentences should be included on the claim form?
- I went to the shops with my children to look for a new dining room table
- On the 12 January 2006, we visited Green & Co to have a look at their dining room tables
The second. The date of any event around which a claim revolves is almost invariably important. The date should assist the defendant to readily identify it and help to ensure that everyone, including all witnesses who are to be relied on in court by both sides, are talking about the same incident. The date will also enable the judge and the defendant to check that the claim is not legally ‘out of date’ because, if it, the defendant could raise this point as a defence. There are time limits for bringing court claims [HL]. For example, a claim for compensation arising out of defective goods must generally be started within six years of their purchase. A claim for compensation for a personal injury arising out of an accident must generally be started within three years of the date of the accident. Give the relevant date as specifically as possible – the 12 January 2006 would be the best or, if not quite sure, on or about the 12 January 2006; next best would be in or about January 2006.
- Green & Co is situated in the shopping precinct next door to the florists
- When we arrived in the shop, we were met by a man who introduced himself as Mr Green
We need to include the second statement. It is useful when you have dealt with a business and wish to rely on something a particular individual said or did to name that individual or otherwise identify them so as to assist the other party to make their own enquiries and decide who might be relevant witnesses for them in the court case. The judge can also readily see the aspect of the case that a particular witness ought to be covering in their evidence.
- Mr Green showed us a lovely dining room table which was a perfect size for our house
- The table we were shown by Mr Green was in perfect condition
Again, the second statement is relevant. Mrs Smith will want it to be clear that she did not agree to buy ‘seconds’ and that the damage was caused before delivery or during delivery and as a result of the driver’s carelessness.
- We said we would take the table and asked Mr Green to arrange delivery of the table to our house later that day.
This needs to be included because it helps show that an agreement was reached – the legal basis of the claim is that there was an agreement (or contract [HL]) with Mr Green and that he broke it by delivering a table that was not of satisfactory quality and in as good as condition as when it was agreed the table would be sold – for the purchase and delivery of the table.
- We paid £750 for the table and left.
This last statement needs to be included. Price will always be relevant to a claim of this nature in that it will be taken into account in relation to whether the quality of the goods was satisfactory and to what the customer should be awarded if the claim is successful.
- After leaving Green & Co we caught the bus home.
Green & Co has received the court papers. What should Mr Green do?
- Pay Mrs Smith the money
- Defend the case being brought against him
If Mr Green does nothing…
If he has decided to do nothing in the hope that Mrs Smith and the court will forget about the case, then the court informs Mrs Smith when they posted the court papers to Mr Green and the date on which he would be treated as having received them. After 14 days from that date, Mrs Smith can complete a court form asking for a judgment to be made which obligates Mr Green to pay to her the full amount she has claimed and to do so immediately.
If Mr Green pays up…
Mr Green can send Mrs Smith a form, included with the court papers, admitting the claim and offering to pay up within two months. If Mrs Smith decides to accept the offer, she completes a court form asking for a judgment to be made in the terms offered. She looks forward to Mr Smith sending her the required amount within the two months and she has decided that next time she buys a vase she will take it home herself and ensure it is bubble wrapped before she leaves the shop.
If Mr Green offers a lesser sum, Mrs Smith is not compelled to accept the offer. If it is unacceptable, the claimant must notify the court of your reasons for rejection (using Form N295A). The court will the fix the rate of payment.
If the claim is admitted, the defendant would be better off settling with the claimant as soon as they can, if possible, so as to avoid attracting a judgment and the consequent registration of that judgment in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines (formerly known as Register of County Court Judgments).
If Mr Green defends…
Mr Green has received the court papers. He is convinced that he has no responsibility to Mrs Smith. He doesn’t want to waste time in court and would prefer to remain in his shop selling more unscratched tables to other customers. He sends the court his written defence in which he admits Mrs Smith bought the table from him. Like the particulars of claim, the defence should be concise. It should make clear which of the claimant’s factual allegations in the particulars of claim the defendant admits and whish he denies and, where a denial is made, the defendant’s version of events should be given.
Which of the following sentences should be included in Mr Green’s defence?
- Mrs Smith purchased the table from me on 12 January 2006.
Yes; this is an admission of a fundamental plank of Mrs Smith’s case. By virtue of the admission, Mrs Smith will know when she sees a copy of the defence and the judge will know on the hearing that she does not have to prove these facts at the hearing because they have been admitted.
- When she visited my shop she told me that she was very interested in seeing different types of dining room tables.
- She told me she had also spent the day looking in other furniture shops for a table.
- I showed her a table which she said she liked very much.
- There was no damage to the table I showed her, and she agreed with me on the price: £750.
Again, these are admissions of facts that are important to Mrs Smith’s case and, by making them, Mrs Smith and in due course the judge will know that there is to be no suggestion that she agreed to buy ‘seconds’ or that she paid less than £750. Therefore, these are facts that Mrs Smith will not have to prove at the hearing.
- I said that I would ask my driver to deliver the table later that day.
Again, an admission of a relevant fact – that it was part of the agreement that Mr Green would be responsible – through his driver – for the delivery.
- Mrs Smith had two children with her, who I thought were badly behaved and out of control.
If Mr Green wishes to follow through the suggestion that the table may well have been scratched by Mrs Smith’s children and not by him or anyone for whom he was responsible then it is helpful for him to draw attention to the behaviour of the children in his shop. That the children were badly behaved and out of control in public on the occasion of purchase, might make it probable that they were badly behaved and out of control in the privacy of their home between delivery of the table and discovery of the bad scratching the next day and that they caused the damage.
- My driver and I checked the table carefully.
Any point tending to show the table was unscratched when it left Mr Green’s shop is relevant and helpful to Mr Green’s case. The fewer the opportunities for it to be damaged whilst in the custody of Mr Green or anyone else for who he was responsible, the more likely that scratching occurred after delivery.
- My driver has a new van for his deliveries.
- My driver delivered the table, and, under her watchful eye, put it in Mrs Smith’s living room as instructed by Mrs Smith.
Again, the latter is an admission of a relevant fact – that, as agreed, the delivery was made by Mr Green’s driver. At the same time, Mr Green is introducing a relevant point for his defence which would tend to suggest there was no opportunity for damage as the table was being brought in and placed in position in the living room or Mrs Smith would have seen what was happening and complained.
- Mrs Smith signed the delivery note.
Signature to the delivery note might imply that the customer is satisfied that delivery has been made satisfactorily. Delivery with scratches could hardly be satisfactory. So this is a relevant point of defence for Mr Green to introduce. If the delivery note not only acknowledged that the delivery had been made but expressly acknowledged that the table had been inspected and was in perfect condition or unmarked then this would be a particularly strong point for Mr Green and the wording of the relevant part of the document, if helpful to his defence, should be set out in the defence.
- It is my case that the table must have been damaged by Mrs Smith or her children after delivery.
Although the burden is not on Mr Green to prove how the table came to be scratched, by putting forward a positive version as to how the damage might have come about, he is strengthening his contention that the damage had not been caused by the time the driver left Mrs Smith’s home. Therefore, it is highly desirable for him to make the latter statement part of his case.
The court sends Mrs Smith a copy of Mr Green’s defence.
At the same time, the court sends both Mrs Smith and Mr Green an ‘allocation questionnaire’ which they must complete and return to the court [HL]. The answers given will enable the court to decide the most convenient venue and how long the case the hearing is likely to take. It could transfer the case to another county court nearer to where the claimant or defendant and the witnesses live or carry on business.
The court sends Mrs Smith and Mr Green details of the hearing that has been fixed and of the directions that the judge has given. The hearing is to be six weeks later and has been estimated to last for one and a half hours. They have both been directed to send to the court and to each other copies of any documents they intend to rely on at the hearing within the next four weeks.
Which documents should Mrs Smith send to the Court?
- Receipt for the table
- The copy of the correspondence between her and Mr Green
- Pictures of the damaged table
Knowing what has been written (and said) by each side closer to an incident than the court hearing and, in particular, before court proceedings have started and their attitude to relevant points which are in issue at the hearing, are often of assistance to the judge. They may help the judge decide which is the more accurate of differing accounts he has heard or who may be lying and who may be telling the truth. Mrs Smith might think that the ‘See you in court’ comment in the letter written by Mr Green showed Mr Green in an unfavourable light and could be helpful to her. But be careful. One side (especially if solicitors for them were involved) – or both sides – may have endorsed on their letters the magic words ‘without prejudice’.
As a general rule, a letter including these words cannot be shown to the judge (although it might be relevant as to who covers the cost of the case and so be read by the judge at the end of the case). The sort of situation in which a ‘without prejudice’ letter might be sent is where one side has put forward an offer to settle the claim. If the offer has been rejected the writer might be anxious that the offer would influence the judge if he was aware of it before giving his judgment. There might be thought to be some inconsistency between say offering to settle by the payment of £4,000 damages and then going into court and denying that you should pay the defendant even one new penny.
The pictures should concentrate on the scratches. They may assist the judge in deciding the circumstances in which they came to be made.
Which documents might Mr Green usefully send the court?
- A copy of the delivery note signed by Mrs Smith
- Details of his driver’s van
The delivery note was validly referred to in Mr Green’s defence and so the judge would wish to see it. To precisely what words was Mrs Smith giving her signature? Did it look like a hurried signature? This may be relevant if the noted stated that she inspected the table on delivery and it was then undamaged.
The defence has to be sent to the court within 14 days of the date on which the defendant is treated as having received the claim form (which is usually two days from the date on which it was posted by the court). But if, during those 14 days, the defendant has sent the court a form of acknowledgement of service (which would have been included with the court papers) to state they are intending to defend the claim, the defendant earns an extra 14 days and so has 28 days within which to send in the defence.
Thanks to District Judge Stephen Gold, who has presided over the small claims track for some 17 years, for allowing us to use his guide to the small claims process including the Mrs Smith/ Green & Co Case study.
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award