'A Day in Court' - Equine related disputes
Brenda Gilligan, senior solicitor, takes a look at how most equine related disputes can be managed.
It is unfortunate if disputes cannot be resolved and the only answer seems to go to Court. Solicitors would always recommend trying to sort things out on an informal basis before taking that step - and we don't mean on Facebook!
Most equine related disputes will fall into what it called the "Small Claims Track" of the County Court. This is for civil disputes where the claim is worth up to £10,000. It does not cover criminal cases. There are two other tracks. One is the Fast Track, for claims up to £25,000 which are not likely to need more than one day in Court for trial and the other is the Multi-Track, for complex and/or high-value claims.
The Small Claims Track (or Court), as it was, came about to provide a simple procedure for low-value and uncomplicated claims to be resolved. It was used a lot by small businesses or individuals trying to recover debts of a few hundred pounds, or for instance, consumers trying to get a refund for faulty goods, which can include horses, as they are regarded as "goods" in law. Formal legal representation is rare, unless provided through an insurer. There is a fee for starting a claim.
In the Small Claims Track, no costs are awarded to either side. In the other Tracks, the successful party's legal or other costs are paid by the losing party. This is good, as it can be a cost effective way of resolving a dispute without the worry of having to pay costs if you lose. It does however mean that even if you win, especially if you have paid a solicitor to represent you, or to give advice, these costs will not be recoverable, but remain payable. There is no point recovering £1000.00 for a mis-sold horse, if your unrecoverable costs are £1500.00. You may find the Court will make an award for Court fees, cost of expert's reports and something for your time in dealing with the claim, but do be aware of the economics.
You may also find that even if you are successful, your claim is unenforceable. The defendant may claim to have no money or assets, or offer to pay £5 a month, or may just disappear. Try to check the defendant's economic status before considering a formal claim.
The procedure is more informal than the other tracks and judges will assist a non- lawyer where appropriate. They will not run your case for you. The Court staff assist with procedure, but not the law. The key is to gather as much relevant evidence as possible -invoices, correspondence, contracts, witness statements, photographs etc - and then organise it in a neat and accessible form so the judge finds it easy to see what your case is. Stick to the facts and keep your arguments short and to the point. Keep calm and don't waffle or try to inflate your claim unrealistically.
The judge will decide for or against you on the evidence.
As with any legal advice, if in doubt, seek the advice of a qualified solicitor - either me or my colleagues are there to help.