Taking a case to Court is not an easy decision. It is made even more difficult by the fact that paying for a Solicitor is often not an option because of the expense! That means that you are essentially on your own, in unfamiliar surroundings! However, it need not be too daunting as long as you prepare yourself and your case before you go into court.
Most small claims will go through the Small Claims Court or MoneyClaims Online because of their value. Personal Injury cases are currently limited to £1000 and Contractgood Claims to £5000 - (Note: this will change shortly and we would NEVER recommend that you take a holiday illness claim into the small claims court without seeking independent guidance first because of the complexity of the cases). The Citizens Advice Bureau provides a good guide on the Small Claims Court which will help you understand the processes.
In addition to these points we would offer the following points which should help you prepare your case:
- The system was designed to allow people to present minor cases in person without spending a lot of money on legal fees.
- Remember, preparation is the key!
You should be able to show BEFORE you go into court that you have – but do not overly worry if some of these elements are missing:
- Communicated clearly with the tour operator or travel provider.
- Set out your correspondence with the tour operator or travel provider in chronological order.
- Created an indexed ‘trial bundle’.
- If appropriate, that you have medical reports which describe your medical complaint and that it has a prognosis (Again, we warn that you should seek independent guidance on holiday illness issues before going into court on your own!).
- Obtained witness statements.
- Introduced photographs and/or have video footage. If you have video footage you should advise the court of this fact so that viewing arrangements can be made for the day of the hearing. In any event you should disclose this footage at the proper time to the tour operator or travel provider.
In addition to these points we also recommend that BEFORE you go into court that you:
- Think about setting out an argument:
- It should state what you think was wrong;
- Why it was wrong;
- What you did to try and resolve it;
- What you think you should get in compensation.
- Prepare some cross examination questions, follow the simple rule:
- Where; and
- Ask some of the questions beginning with the phrase:
- It is correct…;
- It is right…;
- You did this/that…
- DO NOT be rude to the defendant, remain respectful; your story will be powerful without you entering into the realm of Kavanagh QC!
- It is also very important that you comply with court timetables, and ensure that your ‘trial bundle’ is submitted to the court and the defendants in time for the trial;
- Make sure any witnesses will be ready to attend – ask the court how you can enforce their attendance!
All these points are about you controlling the agenda and setting the tone – preparation will help you do this, it will also demonstrate how reasonable you are!
On the day of the trial, remember the judge wants to hear what you have to say, so
- Remain calm – remember to breathe!
- Use the argument you have created to run your case in the order you wish to;
- Ask the Judge before you being if he has got everything;
- Make sure that the Defendant has everything you intend to rely on;
- If you are not sure what to do or present next do not be embarrassed – ask the judge, with the aide of your ‘trial bundle’ – he will tell you what he expects;
- When the defendant has the opportunity to present his case, be respectful, answer the questions carefully and truthfully. If more than one question is asked at a time, clarify which question is to be answered first – but do not be too aggressive on this point!
- Remember, the court is a serious place. Many people are or will be just as nervous as you – even Judges suffer with nerves!
When the parties have presented their cases, the Judge will make his decision.
If you are unhappy with the decision, keep your thoughts to yourself and seek independent guidance afterwards!