Small Claims procedure for people claiming in their personal capacity

 Many people find the prospect of court and the costs and delays to be incurred daunting.  To ensure that small claims are not written off by people for those reasons an alternative method of commencing and dealing with a small claim has developed and it is governed by the Rules of the District Court. A person who has a complaint with regard to an item or service which they have purchased for their own use from a business may take a claim. The party who brings the claim is called the Claimant and the party against whom the claim is made is called the Respondent. The procedure is designed to provide a means of bringing claims in an inexpensive way without recourse to the courts.

What is a Small Claim?

For a claim to be dealt with under the Small Claims Procedure the value of the claim must not exceed €2,000. Matters which can be dealt with under this procedure include;

  • A claim for goods or services purchased with which the consumer is dissatisfied
  • Claim for minor damage to property
  • Non-return of a rent deposit for certain types of rented properties

Processing A Claim

The District Court Clerk in the District Court Office is called the Small Claims Registrar and it is they who are responsible for processing claims. To bring a claim you should lodge a completed application form together with the €15 fee with the Registrar. The Registrar will then forward a copy of the completed application form to the other party, the Respondent who will have 15 days within which to reply.

On receiving notification of the claim they have the following options. They may;

  • Admit the claim and pay the amount due to you immediately (through the Registrar)
  • Make payment conditional (for example, on you returning some faulty goods)
  • Seek to pay the claimed amount in installments
  • Dispute the claim or counterclaim (if they believe you have caused damage to the item or your actions have contributed to it not working properly)
  • Ignore the claim

If the claim is undisputed by the other side, the District Court will then make an order in your favour (without you having to attend court) for the amount claimed, and direct that the amount be paid within a specific period of time. If the claim is disputed the Registrar shall use their best endeavours to settle the dispute between you and the other party and may interview you both. Where a settlement is agreed, particulars of the settlement shall be recorded in writing. If no settlement can be reached a court date is assigned for the matter to be heard. If however, the claim is ignored and no reply is received from the Respondent by the Registrar within 15 calendar days then the other party are deemed to have admitted the claim and Judgement is granted in your favour.

Going to Court

Where the Small Claims Registrar is unable to effect a settlement of the dispute between the parties, they shall refer the matter to the District Court for hearing. If your case has been given a court date it is advisable to get legal advice in advance of the court hearing. Both sides must attend the court hearing. On the court day remember to bring with you documentary evidence supporting your claim, e.g. letters, receipts, invoices. The case will be heard in public as part of a normal sitting of the District Court. When your case is called the Court Registrar will call you to the witness box to give evidence. Evidence must be given on Oath and the other side can question you on matters relating to your claim (called cross-examination). The other side will also be given an opportunity to give evidence. Each witness can be subject to cross examination by the opposing party or their legal representatives. The case will be heard in public.  Either party may have a Solicitor present to represent them but each party shall be liable for their own legal costs and witnesses’ expenses (if any) incurred whether they win or loose.

There may be a dedicated court sitting for the hearing of Small Claims, otherwise the matters will be dealt with at the District Court sitting. The Small Claims Court is not a separate court, it is essentially the District Court. Should you wish to appeal the matter this must be done within 14 days of the decision being handed down by the Judge of the District Court. Both sides have a right of Appeal to the Circuit Court.

This information is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this publication. No liability is accepted by Hammond Good, Solicitors for any action taken in reliance on the information contained therein. Any and all information is subject to change. For further information on the subject, please contact the author, Joyce A. Good Hammond, at joyce@hgs.ie