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There is currently an interesting new pilot scheme which enables the court to direct that certain small claims be determined without a hearing without requiring the agreement of all parties. The pilot is due to run until June 2024. The pilot scheme applies to claims of £1,000.00 or less, where there is no significant factual dispute which requires oral evidence, and the issues are not of such complexity as to require oral advocacy. It also applies to compensation claims for flight delays and the issuance of a parking ticket on private land.
Manchester is one of the County Courts taking part in the pilot scheme.
Usually, following the issue of a small claim, the parties will be sent a directions questionnaire to fill in. A judge will review these questionnaires and give directions to the parties, including the date for any court hearing. Under the pilot scheme, upon considering these questionnaires, a court can direct that the claim be decided without a hearing – either, where the parties agree, or the court considers that the claim is suitable for determination without a hearing. Although the parties’ requests are taken into account, the matter is ultimately a decision for the court.
Where a small claim is deemed suitable for the pilot scheme, it will be decided entirely by a judge upon reading the papers. There will be no need for either claimant or defendant to attend court or give any kind of oral submission. All parties will be notified of the final decision and be provided with the judge’s reasoning.
Anyone who has issued a claim in the small claims court will know that there are lengthy waiting times for court hearings, exacerbated by a backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Parties can be waiting for months to see their case before a judge. The time, expense and stress involved in preparing for and attending a court hearing can often be a deterrent to those unsure of whether it is worth issuing a claim for a small sum of money.
We will be interested to see the uptake in the pilot scheme in Manchester and whether it represents an insight in the future: i.e., more lower value claims (perhaps up to £10,000) being determined without a hearing to reduce time and cost.
*This article was co-authored by Sarah Taylor.
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