Hint: You may want to print this out and take it with you are a reminder.
Hearings are block booked by the courts - up to 10 hearings in the morning and a similar amount in the afternoon. You can expect to be sitting around for a while as different cases are heard. Some are over in minutes while others can go on for a couple of hours. Take something to read.
1. Take 3 Copies.
It is traditional though not necessary for you to have 3 copies of your defence bundle with you. One for the judge, one for the other side and one for you. What can happen is that the paperwork gets lost or misplaced. If you have it with you, it saves the case being postponed and having to come back another day.
2. Breath deeply
It's not a frightening experience though it can upset some people as they expect the worst. It's no more frightening than going to see your doctor. Like visiting the doctor, you'll be confused; he'll talk in terms you do not understand; and you'll may get news you do not like. However unlike going to see a GP, the result won't be life threatening. So take it in your stride as you'll learn a lot, and you'll be able to use the experience to help others.
3. Index everything
Judges are on the clock and want to get through case as soon as they can. Their job is two-fold. What are the facts in front of them. What is the applicable law. You won't be able to do much or know much about the applicable law, but you can make sure your facts are to hand. So index the items in your bundle so you can quickly retrieve the piece you are looking for.
This is a one time chance. If you suddenly realise the killer fact was in the bundle, after the hearing, it's too late. Judges decide on what they are shown.
4. Breath deeply. Be nice.
Don't let them rattle you. Just focus on the paperwork. If you rant or express an opinion (which is a statement without a supporting fact) it will be ignored and discounted. The judge and the other party do not want to be in the room either. They want to get on with the rest of the day, and life histories which may be interesting, should be kept for another time.
5. The Process
The claimant goes first to state the case. Sometimes if the judge has had a chance to read the papers, will simply announce their decision based on the quality of the claim or the defence. Some people are surprised to only be in the room for a few minutes which can happen with a poorly prepared claim or a poorly prepared defence. Judge are not biased, but they will have seen (almost) everything in courts. They have a pretty shrewd idea of human behaviour, so be open but forthright. You'll be expected to defend yourself.
6. Summing up
Once both sides have had a chance to say their piece, the judge will make a decision, perhaps there and then, and will explain why. This will be the core of the judgement which will be confirmed to both parties by letter later. This is the end of the line unless you feel strongly that you should appeal. Very rare for there to be an appeal, but is possible though costly.
The winning party can ask for costs. In the Small Claims track, these are limited to about £100. If the claimant wins it will be £50 in court fees, plus £50 for their solicitor's fee. This is in addition to whatever the amount the judge decides for the claim. More often than not, it is the original parking charge (£100) plus £100 costs - so £200 in total.
If you win, you do not need to pay the original parking charge (£100) and you will be able to claim costs such as time off work, travel, printing, postage, parking (yes) and research at £19/hour. These tend to be capped at about £100 too.
8. After court.
Celebrating or drowning your sorrows is recommended, but drop us a line to share anything you have learned. It may be of use to someone else in future. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org