The Petty Debts Court sits at 10am on Wednesday mornings at the Magistrate’s Court. It deals with claims with a monetary value up to £10,000.
The court acknowledges the issue concerning costs when dealing with disputes. At first it will recommend that both parties (the plaintiff who is making the claim and the defendant) meet informally with a view to them agreeing a solution. Alternatively it will encourage parties to mediate and will provide facilities and a mediator at no cost.
Before issuing proceedings
7 day letter
The plaintiff should submit a claim in writing to the defendant setting out the basis of their claim and demanding payment. The letter should clearly state that if settlement is not made within 7 days that legal proceedings may be issued to recover the monies owed.
To issue a claim, the plaintiff must complete 2 copies of a summons and 1 copy of a claim summary and deliver these together with a stamped addressed envelope to the Magistrate’s Court. The Greffier then posts the summons to the defendant.
Providing that a summons is delivered to the Magistrate’s Court Greffe before 3pm on a Friday normally an action will be added to the court list for the second Wednesday following, or any subsequent Wednesday.
The summons is the formal document detailing when the defendant is required to attend the Petty Debts Court.
In addition to containing the full name and address of the plaintiff and defendant, the summons must provide a brief summary of the basis of the claim and the amount claimed.
Responsibilities of the parties
Responsibilities of the plaintiff
The plaintiff must attend court on the Wednesday that the claim is due. If, however, settlement is achieved before 3pm on the Monday of the court week the action can be withdrawn.
Where payment is made by cheque, or part payment is made or offered by the defendant, the plaintiff will need to attend the first court hearing but may adjourn the action.
Whenever an action has been adjourned the plaintiff must notify the defendant in writing of the new date.
Responsibilities of the defendant
Failure by the defendant to take appropriate action on receipt of the summons will probably result in a judgment being taken.
If the debt is acknowledged early contact with the plaintiff is advisable in order to negotiate a settlement with a view to avoiding judgment which may subsequently affect credit-worthiness.
Settlement with the plaintiff, either in entirety or phased payments, may result in the action being withdrawn, adjourned for a number of weeks or an indefinite adjournment.
If the claim is contested the defendant must either attend court personally or arrange for legal representation.
The plaintiff and defendant (if present) should identify their presence by standing and saying "Present". The judge, who should always be addressed as "Sir" or "Madam", will briefly establish the nature of the dispute.
If an action is not defended the plaintiff will usually be entitled to take judgment. If contesting the claim the defendant should say "I contest the claim".
In the event that a claim is contested by a defendant the court will establish the nature of the dispute to establish whether:
- the claim is justified and within the jurisdiction of the court
- the defendant has an arguable and legitimate defence
Thereby the judge may exercise any of the following options:
- adjourn the action recommending that parties communicate with a view to finding a resolve
- refer both parties to a mediation hearing
- adjourn the proceedings for 5 or more weeks directing that both parties file formal written pleadings
Mediation is private and less formal. Hearings are held at the Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday afternoons and Fridays mornings. Parties will be expected to briefly explain relevant facts.
The mediator, a lawyer, will encourage a settlement. If successful, the terms of the agreement will be recorded in the presence of both parties who will sign and retain a copy.
In determining how best to resolve a dispute, particularly where the issues are more complex, the court may direct parties to file and exchange written pleadings and set time scales for doing so.
Pleadings must be filed with the court within the specified time and a copy forwarded to the other party within 24 hours. Where a party is legally represented, a copy of the pleading should be forwarded directly to their lawyers.
The plaintiff starts the process by filing a Statement of Claim. Following receipt of the claim the defendant must file an answer. When an answer incorporates a counterclaim the plaintiff must within 14 days of receipt of the counterclaim file an answer to the counterclaim and the defendant may within 14 days of its receipt file a rejoinder.