From 1 June 2022 there will be a pilot scheme for Small Claims in the County Court at Bedford, Luton, Guildford, Staines, Cardiff and Manchester where a Judge can order, without the consent of the Parties, to determine the dispute without a hearing.
Currently, the Parties would have to consent to a determination without a hearing.
There are exceptions to this new Practice Direction and the dispute must be suitable for determination without a hearing. Further details on the new Practice Direction i.e. the Court guide on how this will work, can be found here: https://www.justice.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/177322/cpr-143-update.pdf
The Pilot will apply to any Small Claims issued at the County Court at Bedford, Luton, Guildford, Staines, Cardiff and Manchester, which are issued (or started) on or after 1 June 2022. Although please do not think the Pilot does not apply to you if you are not using the County Court in these locations. There are circumstances in which the Pilot will apply to the County Court in other locations.
Now, this could actually be a good thing to bring smaller claims to a conclusion in a more cost effective way.
However, it does mean, more than ever, that you need to make sure that you give it your best shot of presenting your case in the best possible light to maximise your chances of success. There will be no option to clarify points at a final hearing or add or expand upon anything you have written in your claim or defence. The Judge will be making a determination purely on what is before her or him i.e. the papers.
It is not clear whether there will be an opportunity to submit evidence although we suspect that the Judge may provide in her or his order, when ordering a determination without a hearing, that the Parties are to file their evidence. However, we cannot guarantee that that will be the case. Further reason to make sure you are as thorough as possible when drafting your claim or defence.
We therefore recommend that you get professional help in drafting your claim or defence. Small Claims Portal can arrange this for you.
It will be a requirement in an amended Directions Questionnaire (see our guide to Direction Questionnaires) that the Parties state whether they wish to agree that the dispute is resolved without a hearing. If you have drafted your claim or defence yourself, this may be another opportunity to get some legal advice on:
1. Whether you should consent to the claim being determined without a hearing – you may have done a great job on your claim or defence and could save time and money by avoiding the need for a final hearing;
2. If there are any concerns over your prospects of success if the dispute was to be determined without a hearing, these could be pointed out to you. Whilst there is no guarantee, attempts could also be made to try and improve the position.
In short, don’t leave the prospects of winning your case to chance. This applies in any cases but in particular those cases which may end up being determined without a hearing.
The Small Claims Portal is here to help you by organising legal advice or representation.