Notification of Hearing and Allocation Questionnaire
All claims, regardless of their financial value or type, are essentially issued in the same way. The claimant lodges a claim form at a county court, or via the Money Claim Online system, and pays a fee. Once this has been done, for most cases, the court will send a copy of the claim form and a response pack to the defendant.
If the defendant fails to acknowledge and / or defend the claim the claimant will be entitled to apply for a default judgment – in other words a judgment in default of an acknowledgement or defence.
Defended ClaimsIf the defendant defends the claim, the court will have to decide how best to manage it. There are three different procedures, or tracks, for dealing with cases: the small claims track, the fast track and the multi track. All defended claims must be allocated to the appropriate track. Although people often talk about “issuing a small claim”, a case will only become a small claim if and when it is defended.
In choosing the appropriate track for a case, the court will take into account a number of factors, including:
- The financial value of the claim;
- The complexity of the case;
- The value and nature of any counterclaim;
- The number of witnesses who are likely to give oral evidence at the trial.
The Allocation QuestionnaireAn Allocation Questionnaire will usually be sent to all parties to a defended claim. The form will have to be returned to the court about 14 days from the date on which it is assumed to have been received by the parties.
The Questionnaire contains questions which will help the court decide on the correct track for the claim. Parties are expected to liaise with each other when filling in the questionnaire. The areas covered include:
- The amount of the claim which is disputed. For example a builder might be suing a householder for £10,000 for a kitchen that he fitted. The householder accepts that he owes the builder £5000 but disputes the rest of the claim on the basis that the builder did not do all of the work that had been agreed.
- The track the parties think is appropriate for the claim. There are a number of reasons why a party may want a case to be dealt with on a particular track. For example, a litigant in person may want a case to be on the small claims track so that the costs are limited. Conversely, if one party can afford to pay for solicitors they may want the claim to be dealt with on the fast or multi-track to discourage a litigant in person from pursuing it.
- A time estimate for the trial. This will be determined by the facts of the case, the legal issues involved, the number of witnesses etc.
- Whether expert evidence is required.
Once the court receives the Allocation Questionnaires it can either allocate the case to a track, ask the parties to provide more information or order that there be an allocation hearing.
Notification of HearingThe court may decide that the best way to deal with the case is to have a hearing, where the parties can attend and discuss how to deal with the trial. If so it will send the parties a notice of hearing. This will state that, after considering the Allocation Questionnaires, a judge has decided that there should be an allocation hearing and will tell the parties where and when it will take place. It is always advisable to arrive at court at least 15 minutes before the hearing. There may be the chance to negotiate with the other side and the judge may even take the case early if he is free and all the parties are at court.
At the allocation hearing the judge will usually decide which track the case should be allocated to and then provide some instructions, or directions, telling the parties how to prepare for the trial. If the judge thinks that either the claim or the defence is unclear or has not been properly stated, he may give directions that a better and more detailed claim or defence is prepared to enable the court, and the other party, to understand that party’s position.