Small claims and a court hearing
The following is a brief guide as to what you can expect in a Small claims court hearing.
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If your small claims procedure case could not be resolved and has been referred for a hearing in the District Court, you will receive a letter from the District Court office telling you the date and time of the court hearing and the location of the court itself. The case will be heard in public as part of a normal sitting of the District Court.
If you have any difficulty with attending court on the date set for the hearing, notify the District Court office and the respondent immediately. You may ask to have the date adjourned, or put back, to another date. Only the judge can make this order and you will need a very good reason for not being able to attend or go ahead with the case on that date. If you cannot attend yourself, you can send a representative to make the request to the court on your behalf.
Preparing for Court
It is very important to prepare yourself for the court hearing. It may be advisable to get legal advice. Under Irish law, a business is required to be legally represented in court-based proceedings.
If you are not familiar with the court process, you should familiarise yourself with the layout, court practice and operation of the court in advance of the hearing.
You will need to present information to the judge that sets out clearly the nature of your relationship with the respondent, that is, the person you are claiming against. This relationship could relate to the roles of:
- Consumer and retailer
- Consumer and service provider
- Owner of property the respondent has allegedly damaged
You will need to show what went wrong and give the circumstances surrounding the problem.
You will need to show how you tried to put the matter right and the steps you took to remedy the situation.
You should also know how the various consumer laws protect you in your particular situation and draw the court’s attention to them.
You should be clear about exactly what it is you are claiming for.
When presenting your information to the court, you should back it up with evidence wherever possible. You should:
- Have your receipt or other proof of purchase ready
- Bring the faulty or damaged goods to the court to show them to the judge
- Take photographs of poor workmanship, damaged property or poor quality goods or services that you cannot bring to court
- Get an independent opinion by another expert and have the expert appear in the court as your witness (you will be responsible for any expense this might incur)
- Bring any letters, advertisements or any other documents you may have relied on when buying the goods or services
- Ask any other person who can back up your claim, especially in the case of faulty services provided, to attend as a witness. You can send them a witness summons if necessary – the Small Claims Registrar can issue a witness summons on your behalf for a small fee.
The Court Hearing
On the day of your court hearing, you will have to attend the District Court. It will be a court open to the public and it will be a District Court judge that will hear your case.
When your case is called you will hear your name called out and then the name of the respondent, for example, “Patrick Murphy versus Joe Ryan”. At this point, you should stand up and identify yourself to the court.
The Small Claims Registrar will then call out to the judge a summary of what your case is about. You will be asked to go to the witness box. You will stand in the witness box and the Court Clerk will assist you to swear an oath or to make an affirmation to tell the truth.
Making your case
The judge will then ask you to begin your case. Here is where you must give your side of the dispute, in as clear a fashion as possible and backed up with as much evidence as you need.
The judge will ask you some questions, which you should answer as best you can. Remember, the correct way to address the judge is “judge” and you should direct your answers to the judge at all times. When you have answered the judge’s questions, the judge will give the respondent an opportunity to question you. Answer these questions as best you can but do not start an argument with the respondent.
After this, you will be allowed to leave the witness box. If you wish to call a witness, you should do so at this time. Your witness will go through a similar procedure. When your witness or witnesses have finished, it will be the respondent’s turn to give their evidence. If your case is against a company, a representative of the company will speak on its behalf.
The respondent’s defence
The procedure for the respondent is very much the same as it was for you. You will get an opportunity to question the respondent when the judge has finished asking them questions. You can prepare for this by studying the respondent’s reply on the Notice of Dispute (and Counterclaim, if relevant) and by preparing questions in advance. You will also need to listen carefully to what the respondent says while in the witness box and you can challenge any evidence you do not agree with at this time.
The respondent will then have an opportunity to call witnesses to give evidence. You will also be given an opportunity to put questions to these witnesses.
The court decision
When all the witnesses have been heard, the judge will usually make their decision there and then. If the judge decides in your favour, they will make an order or decree. This is usually an order for the respondent to pay an amount of money to you, but the judge can decide to make any order they see fit. For example, the judge may direct that the work be completed or the goods be repaired. The order will be made to suit your particular case.
If the court makes a decree for an amount of money, the respondent has 28 calendar days to pay you. If the court makes any other type of decree, it will usually put a time limit within which it must be completed.
If the judge decides not to uphold your claim, your case will be dismissed. This means that no order or decree will be made in your favour.
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