Advice for landlords: What happens at a small claims hearing?

Following our recent blog on the money claim process, this article covers what a landlord should expect when attending the hearing itself. For the novice landlord or those who have never attended such a formal setting before, it can be quite daunting, so this article takes you through the process before, during and after the hearing…

Before the hearing

You’ll be asked to send copies of documents to the court and the defendant before the hearing. Make sure you follow the instructions you’re given on how to send them – and remember to do it!

On the day, make sure you have planned the route and where you intend to park, because turning up late is never a good look. To enter the court you will have to go through metal detectors so try and leave unnecessary keys, coins, and the umbrella at home. Make sure you take sufficient copies of your evidence with you just in case you are asked for additional copies, as it’s not unusual for the courts to misplace the paperwork.

There will be a waiting room where other parties involved in hearings will sit until their names are called out over the loud tannoy. There is normally a quiet room which you can use if you need some privacy or wish to wait away from the other party in your case.

You should have the opportunity to ask questions of the other side’s witnesses during the hearing, so before the day of the trial you should put together a list of questions you may wish to ask them at the hearing.

The hearing

The clerk will show the parties into the court room. The judge is likely to be in the room already with the papers before them. Hopefully, they will have had time to digest the papers provided by both parties before you go in, so they should know what the case is about and be familiar with the documents and witness evidence.

The judge will have a limited amount of time to get through the evidence and decide the outcome of the case. You should expect one-two hours for your hearing to include time for the judge to read the papers beforehand and to prepare their judgment after considering the evidence. That being the case, they will keep a firm grip on what they are prepared to allow the parties to say. They will want to stick to the core issues and avoid distractions. The hearing will be fairly informal, although a lot will depend on the personality of the Judge.

The judge will keep the hearing moving along and keep it structured.

Etiquette

The judge accepts that sometimes the relationship between the parties will be strained, with tension bubbling to the surface. However, you must show your opponent’s witnesses respect and should refrain from interrupting them when they are speaking. Try to keep your cool even if the witnesses are lying or showing you disrespect in your view. Poor etiquette is unlikely to do you any favours with the judge.

You must also ensure you show the J=judge the respect they deserve. Again, don’t interrupt them when speaking. When you address a male judge you should call him “Sir” and if female address her as “Madam”.

The decision

After hearing the evidence the judge will likely send you and your opponent out to allow them to consider what decision to make and prepare their judgment. It might be half an hour or so before the clerk calls you back in. Don’t stray from the waiting room; if you aren’t there when the judge calls you back in to deliver the judgment, he won’t wait for you.

The judge will read out their judgment which will set out what order they are making and and their reasoning for such a decision. This is not an opportunity to argue with the judge or to try to get them to change his mind. The need to remain patient is vital otherwise you could be removed from the hearing.

If you are unhappy with the outcome, you can ask the judge for permission to appeal and your reasons why. The court office or perhaps the judge themselves might give you some information on how to appeal. If you want to appeal, you need to do so quickly, as the time limits involved are noticeably short. If you fail to file the papers quickly enough, the chance to appeal will be lost

Summary

It is vitally important that you take time to prepare for the hearing, not only in relation to the evidence required but also in terms of how to present and behave at the hearing itself. As with most things in life, if you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the experienced lettings team at Foxes. Call us on 01202 299600 or email lettings@foxes.co.uk

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