Step eight: At the court hearing
Small claims courts are designed to be informal. The judge doesn't wear robes, 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, some courts will let you go on a visit beforehand. That way, you can look around and ask questions about what will happen on the day.
If 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.
Bringing someone with you to the hearing
You have the right to bring someone with you to advise and support you. They can be, for example:
- a Citizens Advice adviser
- a law centre worker
- a trading standards civil adviser
- a friend
If English isn't your first language, you might want to bring someone to tell you what's being said in your own language. You'll need to ask the court before the day of your hearing if you can do this.
Sometimes, courts can provide an interpreter - you should ask before the day of your hearing.
You can find out about interpreters in court on GOV.UK
It's up to the judge to decide whether the person you bring can speak to the court. You'll need to ask the court before the hearing if you want the person to speak for you.
Some people charge to go to court with you. If they do, you'll have to pay. If you win your case, you won't be able to claim this cost. You should check how qualified the person is to help 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.
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.
Other useful information
- Coming to a court hearing? Some things you should know – the Courts Service at: www.justice.gov.uk