Petty Debts Court Trials

4.9.2 Updated on:18 October 2021

Preparing for your case

If your case has been sent to trial, you will first go to pleadings.  The Court may give instructions on what must happen. This is called Orders.

The Plaintiff must submit a new Claim Summary on the matter(s) which remain in dispute.  The Defendant must submit their version of events for each point raised, called the answers, and can include any counterclaims.  The Plaintiff must then submit answers to any counterclaims.

Striking out

If either party does not submit documents within the timescale instructed or considers a submission irrelevant, the other party can ask the Magistrate to strike out the case.  The Court has the power to strike out any case it deems to be unreasonable.

Disclosure

Disclosure means that you must disclose or share the information you have with the other side.  Sometimes that is not going to be very helpful to your case, but you must hand the information over anyway. The Court may make an Order for disclosure of certain things, e.g. your bank statements for the last three years, or it may make an Order for full disclosure.  This means anything which is related to the case must be given to the other party. It might be documents, invoices, emails, text messages or telephone recordings.

Fixing the date

There are costs involved in taking a case to pleadings so always think about whether it is worthwhile. For example, if you are the Plaintiff, you must pay a £30.00 administration fee to the Magistrates Court to fix the date. If the debt is over £3,000.00 the court fees are £300.00 per day or part of a day.

Both you and the Defendant will have to attend court to fix the date for the pleadings of the case. Dates are usually fixed at the Magistrate’s Court office at 9.30am on a Thursday morning. If you intend to call witnesses, you should check when they are not going to be available in the next three to four months so that the court staff know.

Judgement by default

If a party does not attend a Court date, the Court will make a judgement against them in their absence.

Giving your Evidence to the Court

When you file your evidence before the Court, it must be provided in a special written document called an Affidavit. It is usually advised that you get the help of a lawyer or a notary public to prepare.

An Affidavit is a statement of facts, written in date order, about what you know to be true. It is what you saw, did or heard yourself. What someone else saw, did or heard is not allowed to be in the Affidavit as that is called ‘hearsay evidence’, so is not totally reliable because you did not see or hear what happened yourself.

The Plaintiff and the Defendant and every witness who is to give evidence must file an Affidavit with the Court. All the Affidavits should be given to the Court or court staff either by the people involved themselves or their lawyers. You should keep copies for yourself.

Filing of Bundles

A bundle is a collection of all the documents containing information relating to your claim that the Court will look at to decide the outcome. You will usually need to put together four bundles. Two must be delivered to the Court, one given to the other side and one you keep for yourself.

Each bundle must be identical and the pages need to be numbered. You need to put an index at the front of what the information is and what page number it is on. You also need to prepare a list of witnesses and give their full name, date of birth and place of birth.

If you try to put forward evidence on the day of the court hearing which is not in the bundle, it is unlikely that the Magistrate will allow the evidence to be heard.  The Magistrate would have to agree to it and the other side may object.

Witnesses

You may find that some people are reluctant to be witnesses for you. If you have asked them and they have said no, you could ask the court to Summons them because the Court can insist that your witnesses attend.

Sometimes someone with expert knowledge of the sort of matter being discussed is needed to give an opinion. They are called expert witnesses. Examples might be a Trichologist for hair problems or a Surveyor for a building problem.

Giving evidence

During the pleadings, all the witnesses must be prepared to speak. They must be warned that they may be questioned about what they say and should bring any supporting evidence. For instance, if they have a text message from you that backs up what you have said, they need to bring the phone with the message on. If an email was sent then a copy needs to be brought to Court. There is no point in anyone coming to Court without the evidence to back up what they are going to say.

The Magistrate might decide that expert evidence is necessary before the evidence can be considered, e.g. an email might need an IT expert to say it was sent and received at a certain time.

If it is impossible for a witness to attend court, the Magistrate can allow written evidence to be presented, but the other party would have to agree to it.

How the Court works

The Judge is called the Magistrate. When you need to speak to or answer the Magistrate you must stand and say Sir or Madam, as appropriate.

When the case is called, the witnesses will be sworn in. That means they must take an oath or affirmation and swear to tell the truth. If a witness lies, they commit perjury. This is a crime for which you can be fined or sent to prison.

If you are the Plaintiff bringing the case you will be asked to give a brief outline and mention what evidence you have or what evidence your witnesses will give.

Your witnesses are then called in to give their evidence. After they have done so, the Defendant can ask questions. This is called cross-examination.

The Magistrate can ask questions while a witness is giving their statement but the Defendant and Plaintiff must wait until they are told they can do so.

The Defendant then outlines their case, gives evidence and calls witnesses.

Apart from the Plaintiff and the Defendant, the other witnesses are not usually allowed in Court until they are due to give their evidence. After they have given their evidence they can ask if they can stay. It will be down to the Magistrate to decide.

Once in the Court, you should not leave unless told by the Magistrate.

Once you have given your evidence, you must not speak to anyone about the case or anything that happened in Court until the case is over. If the information were overheard by anyone who is waiting to give their evidence, it may no longer be admissible.

While evidence is being given, it is wise to write down what is being said so you can ask the other side questions when your turn comes.

The Judgement

After all the evidence has been heard, both the Plaintiff and the Defendant will be asked to summarise their case. This is the last chance you have to put forward your point of view. The Magistrate will then decide the case and give a verdict. This might not be on the same day if they want to go away and consider their decision.

If either the Plaintiff or Defendant are asking for any legal costs they have incurred because of the case, the Magistrate will decide. Both parties will be able to put forward their views before a decision is made.

The full Petty Debts Court rules are available here