Change due for small claims court

A report on small claims courts by Consumers' Association magazine Which? has met with a cautious welcome from the Law Society.

But the report's most important recommendation, to increase the limit on the value of cases from u1,000 to u5,000, will be controversial.

Suzanne Burn, secretary of the Law Society's Civil Litigation Committee, says any increase in the size of small claims should be coupled with safeguards excluding all personal injury cases.

She is also concerned that individuals who take actions against big companies or insurers are not prejudiced by taking action at the small claims level, where legal aid is not available.

“A large number of cases in the county courts involve sums of less than u5,000,” Burn says.

“It is not sensible to make major changes such as increasing the limit for small claims, until the Woolf committee reviewing the whole system of civil litigation makes its findings known.”

The Law Society welcomes a recommendation of the Which? report to introduce out-of-hours hearings, to make the courts more accessible to people in full-time work.

Burn says some cases could be dealt with on paper by solicitors sitting in their offices and acting as deputy district judges responsible for small claims.

She supports the idea that consumer cases should be heard in the court nearest the individual, rather than the company, and that court staff should be better trained.

The other main recommendation of the report is that publicity about the courts should be improved and the outcome of cases reported in the press.