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Paper Claims: a sign of the future for Small Claims matters?

In a further attempt by the courts to minimise court time spent on low value matters, 6 County Courts will be piloting a paper determination Small Hearings process commencing on 1 June 2022.

The pilot will last for 2-years and will operate in the following County Courts: Bedford, Luton, Guildford, Staines, Cardiff and Manchester. Under the scheme, there will be no trial and the case will be determined on paper.

Why is the pilot being introduced?

For many years now the courts have been exploring ways to reduce the volume of low value, non-complex cases handled by the courts in an effort to speed up civil proceedings and to allow the judiciary to devote their time to high value and/or complex matters.

A new Practice Direction (CPR PD 51ZC) has now been introduced with a view to piloting a process where the case is decided on paper, without the parties attending a hearing.

CPR PD 51ZC provides that:

“A determination without a hearing can be a proportionate and efficient means of determining a small claim in cases where it is not necessary to hear oral evidence or oral advocacy to determine the issues justly.”

How will the process operate?

A new Directions Questionnaire will be used which allows all parties to be consulted as to whether the case is suitable to be determined without a hearing. The key change, however, is that the ultimate decision will fall to the discretion of a District Judge, the consent of the parties for the case to be determined without a hearing is not a requirement.

The District Judge who determines the case on paper must provide a list of their reasons to support the Judgment reached. There is no right to apply to set aside any Judgment entered although each party has a right to appeal the decision.

Which cases will the pilot apply to?

The pilot does not apply to housing disrepair claims, or to claims within the RTA Small Claims Protocol.

The type of cases might the process be suitable for:

  • Flight delays
  • Refusal to board planes
  • Private parking charges
  • Any other claim with a value lower than £1,000

Why is this relevant to a creditor with a debt to recover?

Whilst the impact of the pilot relates to only a very small proportion of debt recovery matters, it reflects the approach which is likely to be taken by the courts moving forward. If the pilot is successful, it is probable that the process will be rolled out more widely potentially to all Small Claims matters.

If extended, this more streamlined process could make the Small Claims process more efficient, economic and speedier and could offer a more user friendly court process. These are very real requirements given that only very limited legal costs are recoverable on the Small Claims Track and that cases can take several months to be determined due to court listing issues.

For further information, please get in touch.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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