COVID-19 & a potential new future for Small Claims Hearings?

April 7th 2020

It needs pointing out to no one that these are strange and uncertain times.  Dealing with the Courts is certainly no exception to that current rule.  Things are changing on a day to day basis.  So much so in fact that Court Service is issuing a Daily Operational Update on its website detailing such matters as which Courts are still open and what types of work is being prioritised.  At Spratt Endicott, we are closely monitoring these updates and keeping our Clients informed accordingly.

The main area of work that the Court is trying to avoid is non-essential hearings due to the need for everyone to comply with social distancing rules.  Some hearings are being converted to telephone hearings and new guidance has been issued by the Court for the conduct of these.

However, for Small Claims hearings the most likely outcome is an adjournment for at least 4 months.  Bearing in mind the amount of time it took, prior to Covid-19, to get a claim to hearing this is a further delay which could prove very detrimental to the claimant’s business particularly at a time when getting money in is going to be difficult anyway.

Sensibly, the Courts are offering a solution for Small Claims matters in that the parties are being given the option to have the matter decided by a Judge based on the content of the witness statements and submitted documents without the need for anyone to attend Court.  This means that a Judgment could be obtained in the near future without the extra time and cost of a hearing.  This could actually turn out to be more beneficial as Small Claims hearings are often seen as an unnecessary cost in low value, simple cases.  Perhaps this is something the Courts could consider doing when we are back to ‘normal’.  It is likely that a lot of things will change in the post-Covid-19 world.