The Small Claims Court is a low cost, quick and informal way of settling disputes. The system was set up in Northern Ireland in 1979. It allows anyone to make a claim to recover money owed to them up to a fixed amount of £3,000 and may not necessarily result in a court hearing. If a court hearing is necessary it would normally be completed in approximately three months. The procedure is simple and involves completing a one-page form and paying a fee which is determined by the amount of the claim (see list of fees below). Alternatively you can process your claim online at www.courtsni.gov.uk and pay by debit or credit card.
The Small Claims Court operates under Order 26 of the County Court Rules (Northern Ireland).
In general a small claim is where the value of the claim is not more than £3,000. Examples of the claims you can make are:
The current fees for small claims are:
- for claims not exceeding £300 - £30
- for claims over £300 but not over £500 - £50
- for claims over £500 but not over £1,000 - £70
- for claims over £1,000 but not over £3,000 - £100
If you intend using a Small Claims Court to make a claim in respect of goods or services you have paid for, you can contact Consumerline on 0300 123 6262 or talk to Citizens Advice or local Advice Centre who will be able to offer advice on the procedure and provide an application form. You can also get an application form and a small claims guide at any Court office, by phone from the Small Claims Civil Processing Centre on 028 9072 4566 or online at www.courtsni.gov.uk
Completed application forms may be lodged at your local Court office or sent to the Small Claims Civil Processing Centre at the address shown below. Following the processing of your application you will receive an applicant's pack and the person you are claiming against (the respondent) will receive a respondent's pack allowing approximately one month to admit or dispute your claim. These packs contain all the further forms that are required to complete the case. If the claim is disputed the case will be listed for a court hearing at your local court office before a District Judge.
If the respondent fails to either admit or dispute your claim you can apply for a default decree against the respondent. This is a County Court judgment and will affect the respondent's credit history.
The Small Claims Court is designed so that you do not need a solicitor or barrister to represent you. The judge will explain the procedure and give you the opportunity to give details of your claim. You will also get an opportunity to put your questions to the respondent and any witnesses if you wish. If you do decide to engage a solicitor then you will be responsible for paying their costs even if you win.
If you win your case you will receive a decree from the Court office which will also be served on the respondent. If the respondent fails to make payment or arrange payment within a reasonable time (usually between 14 and 28 days) the next step you can take is to contact the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) to have the decree enforced by trying to receive payment from the respondent on your behalf. However, this entails further court fees. Their address and phone number are shown below or at www.courtsni.gov.uk
Before beginning the small claim process, you can ask the Enforcement of Judgments Office to make a search for a person or firm. There is a small fee for this service. This will show if there are any enforced judgments already in existence against the respondent. You can then use this information to help you decide whether or not it would be practical for you to proceed with this action. Even if you succeed with your claim, if the respondent has other judgments lodged with the Enforcements of Judgments Office, you may find that you will not get your money back immediately, if at all.
You can't complain about a judicial decision but you can complain about the personal conduct of a member of the judiciary. The Lord Chief Justice introduced a new code of practice governing such complaints with effect from 3 April 2006. The code is available on the Courts and Tribunals Service website.
You can also complain about Court or EJO officials. Try first to sort out any complaint locally. If that doesn't work, get in touch with the Regional Business Manager (the Court will give you the address) or for EJO complaints, the Chief Enforcement Officer (based in the EJO).
If you're still unhappy with their response you can contact the Complaints Co-ordinator at the Communications Group shown below. if you remain unhappy with the way your complaint has been handled, you can ask an MLA to write to the Northern Ireland Ombudsman at the address below.
From category: Taking Legal Action