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Step eight: At the court hearing

Small claims courts are designed to be informal. The judge doesn't wear robes and the court room is usually no bigger than a living room and looks like an office meeting room. If you're feeling nervous about the hearing, many courts will let you go on a pre-visit, so that you can look around, ask questions and chat through what will actually happen on the day.

This page tells you more about what happens at a court hearing and bringing someone with you for support.

Do you have to attend a court hearing

If your case is straightforward, the judge might decide that they can decide the outcome of the case based on the paperwork you and the trader have sent in. If this happens you can agree that the judge can deal with your case without you being there.

However, if the judge has decided that the case needs to be heard in court, you will have to attend. If you don't go to court, the judge may strike out the claim.

Can you bring someone with you to the hearing

You have the right to bring someone with you who can talk on your behalf. They are called a lay representative and can be, for example:

  • a bureau worker
  • a law centre worker
  • a Trading Standards civil adviser
  • a friend
  • anyone who you think will be useful to bring along, such as an interpreter.

The representative can only speak on your behalf if you attend the hearing too. However, if you can't attend the hearing, the court may allow them to present the case for you. You'll need to ask the court before the hearing if you want a representative to speak for you.

Some lay representatives may charge you for coming along and you will have to pay for these costs yourself. If you win your case, you won't be able to claim them back. You should also check how qualified the person is to represent you before you hire them.

The hearing is public. It is possible that someone you don't know may be there to watch what goes on, although this doesn't happen very often.

What happens at the court hearing

Hearings in the small claims track are informal and there are no strict rules for how the case will be heard. The judge has to decide what's the best way to deal with everyone fairly, so may limit the amount of questions to a fixed time or to a particular subject.

How long it takes

You will only have a limited amount of time to put your case forward, and you will be told before the hearing how long that will be. The trader will also have time to put their case (defence).

The judge will make sure that everyone has an equal amount of time to talk and that any responses are dealt with fairly.

Take your paperwork with you

Make sure you have original copies of any documents with you and that they are in date order, so that you don't waste any time.

Witnesses

If the court has allowed a witness or an expert to give evidence at the hearing, it's up to you make sure that they are available on the day and that they turn up on time. If the case is delayed because people are late or don't show up, the court could order you to pay extra costs.

The judge's decision

At the end of the hearing the judge will say what the outcome of the case will be. This is called giving the judgment. The judge has to give reasons why they have decided on the outcome. Be prepared for the fact that the judge will be as brief and to the point as possible.

You usually don't get any written confirmation of the outcome of the judgment at the hearing. However, you and the trader will get written copies of the judgment afterwards.

The judge can also make an order. Court orders are a way of making someone pay the money they owe. They are legally binding and are recorded in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines if they are not settled straightaway. If you have an order made against you, you might find it difficult to get credit in the future.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • Coming to a court hearing? Some things you should know – the Courts Service at: www.justice.gov.uk
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