Small Claims in the County Courts in England and Wales: The Bargain Basement of Civil Justice?

Small Claims in the County Courts in England and Wales: The Bargain Basement of Civil Justice?

Small Claims in the County Courts in England and Wales: The Bargain Basement of Civil Justice?

Small Claims in the County Courts in England and Wales: The Bargain Basement of Civil Justice?

Synopsis

The way that small claims are dealt with has prompted enormous interest in many jurisdictions, yet the subject has been neglected by researchers in this country. We should not doubt the importance of these procedures, however. It is increasingly seen as a convenient expedient in tackling the crisis in civil justice, and with a massive increase in the small claims limit from ¿1,000 to ¿3,000 in January 1996, small claims have suddenly become big judicial business. This book (based on research conducted over a two-year period and funded by the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Office of Fair Trading and the Economic and Social Research Council) presents the most extensive empirical research analysis of small claims procedures ever undertaken in this country. The theoretical and practical implications of moves to expand the scope of 'Do-it-yourself' justice are explored. The author had privileged access to the district court judges who conduct claim hearings, and the book is the first to include lengthy extracts from tape recorded interviews with them. It also includes discussion of interviews with litigants, including many who struggled to gain payment of court judgments.

Excerpt

One of the great challenges for a legal system is to devise ways in which the legal problems of ordinary people may be resolved in a relatively simple, quick and cheap fashion. Disputes occur frequently. Most do not raise complex legal problems. What is at stake may often seem to the outsider to be banal or to involve a trivial amount. Nonetheless, some disputes do become matters of great concern to the people involved.

The small claims regime in England and Wales is relatively new, but has grown substantially in recent years, to the extent that it now accounts for the great majority of defended actions in the county court. The small claims procedure has generally been viewed very positively in official enquiries, and it is widely believed that it is by its expansion that greater access to civil justice can be achieved. How the present regime actually works in practice, however, is not well understood. John Baldwin's new book, which is based on an analysis of the experience of the litigants, lawyers and judges involved in the small claims regime, deals with this question. Professor Baldwin not only documents the operation of the small claims court but assesses how well it works. The careful evaluative research in this book is to be welcomed as an important contribution to the debate about the future scale and shape of civil justice in England and Wales, and in particular about whether the small claims procedure is something to be further developed.

KEITH HAWKINS

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