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What happens in the Court?

Petty debt claims are usually heard in Court 2 at 2.30 p.m. on the notified Thursday afternoon.

Having paid the Court fee at the Royal Court public counter the Plaintiff should wait in the public gallery of the Court and await the calling of their case. The Court Clerk will call the case naming the Plaintiff and the Defendant. At this point the Plaintiff and the Defendant (if he or she wishes to contest the claim) should enter into the Court where they will be guided to a position to represent their claims to the judge.

The judge will invite the Plaintiff to state what they wish to claim, and if the Defendant does not appear it is usual to ask for "judgment with costs" which will usually be granted. The Plaintiff will then be free to leave the Court.


Is it possible for cases to be adjourned?

It is also possible to adjourn the case to another day (e.g. if some agreement or settlement is likely). If good service has not been achieved (not "A Service" or "B Service") the Plaintiff will have been informed ahead of the court hearing date and can withdraw the claim, alternatively they can take the matter into court where it will be adjourned to another Thursday to enable a better level of service to be achieved.

If the case is adjourned sine die (indefinitely) and the Plaintiff wishes to re-instate the case then another summons will need to be served on the Defendant for which another service and Court fee will need to be paid.

An alternative available is where the Plaintiff agrees with the Defendant to 'sign over' the debt where the Defendant signs an agreement to pay a mutually agreed amount in instalments and agrees that the case can be re-instated in the Court without a further summons if he or she does not meet the agreed payment plan. An example of a 'Sign Over' Agreement is at Annex C.


What happens if the case is contested?

If the case is to be contested by the Defendant then the judge will usually ask on what basis the claim is defended. Having considered that a further hearing is necessary, the judge will order a mutually convenient date for the hearing. This may be some time ahead due to pressure on Court time with earlier cases.

The judge will inform both the Plaintiff and the Defendant that if they have any documents or correspondence on which their case relies that copies should be made available for the judge and the Deputy Greffier. The Parties should retain the original copies of the documents upon which they will rely on at the hearing and remember to bring such documents into court with them. Both parties must also exchange documentation at least 7 days in advance of the hearing. If you do not provide copies to the other party/parties or to the Court you risk a further adjournment of your case and an order that you pay the costs of the adjournment. The parties should. Equally, that if any witnesses are to be called that it is the responsibility of either side to ask the witnesses to attend. If either side believes that a witness would not attend willingly, it is possible to have the witness summoned to attend the Court. Guidance on how to do this can be obtained from Client Services (Petty Debts).
 

Procedures for a contested hearing

If your claim has been disputed and or a counterclaim has been issued both Plaintiff and Defendant should have exchanged documented evidence at least 7 days before the hearing and have provided 2 copies to the Court for the judge and the Deputy Greffier. Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant should appear in Court at the time notified at the initial hearing. No further formal notification will be made and so it is the responsibility of each party to attend. At a contested case it is possible to be represented by an advocate or with the permission of the judge, assisted by a "friend" (who can offer advice, but not take over the conduct of the case). Quite often both sides represent themselves.

If a company is one of the parties in a case a Director or the company Secretary should represent it, or someone authorised in writing by the company to represent it may appear.

Day of hearing
Both sides must remember to bring in their own copies/originals of any documented evidence exchanged and provided to the court. Both sides should ensure all relevant witnesses are present. You cannot rely on a report or a letter from a witness. Unless the other party agrees, the same witness who has written a letter or report must be physically present at Court.

The Plaintiff begins and evidence is called. The Defendant can then ask questions of the witnesses in cross examination. This is not the time for the Defendant to tell their side of the case, that part comes later on. The Defendant's case is then heard with any witnesses being called and then cross examined by the Plaintiff. At the end the Defendant sums up, followed last of all by the Plaintiff.

The Judge then having considered the information provided will deliver a decision. It is important to note that the Plaintiff has to prove the case in order to succeed. Hence the Judge has to be satisfied that the Plaintiff's version is of events is correct. If, having heard the evidence the Judge is not satisfied on this point then the claim will fail.

Costs
The power to award costs to the successful party is very limited and restricted to the costs of getting the case to Court or for loss of earnings for witnesses, plus a very limited power to award travelling expenses and costs for expert witnesses. Whether or not costs are awarded is a matter for the judge. You cannot recover costs for your advocate's fees if you use one.

Appeals
A dissatisfied party can appeal to the Royal Court, but this must be in writing. Advice on this can be obtained from the Client Service Team. It is recommended that legal advice be taken in such eventuality. Notice must be given within 7 days of the decision appealed against.