In the small claims court, presentation can make a huge difference to you winning your small claims case. But, don't worry about acting like a professional lawyer. The small claims court is for amateurs and the court won't be expecting a professional performance.
But, even if you're an amateur, here are some presenting tips which will help to improve your chances of winning at the small claims court.
1. Practise your presentation
It's a good idea to practise your small claims court presentation at home before family or friends. If they clearly understand your points, it's likely the judge at the small claims court will too.
2. Visit a small claims hearing
Attend a small claims hearing. These are open to the public. Keep in mind that a preliminary small claims hearing and mediation are far less formal and are held in the judge's chambers. You will largely respond to the judge's questions, rather than present a court case and cross-examine. When you're familiar with the judge's practices, you may change your planned presentation.
3. Act properly
Show up at the small claims court punctually and dress appropriately. Always talk directly to the judge and not to your adversary. Address the District Judge as 'Sir' and an open court judge as 'Your Honour'. Most importantly, address your adversary with courtesy. A judge cannot rule in your favour simply because you are well-mannered, but your good demeanour can only reflect well on you. Don't interrupt the judge or your adversary; at the small claims court the judge will always let you answer when they have finished.
4. Be prepared
Write out what you're going to say at the small claims court in the form of a speech and then stick to it. Read it to a friend and ask if it's clear what you're trying to say. Also, ask if they have any questions and then answer those questions.
5. Don't be too legalistic
Present the facts of why you’re making a small claim and don't argue the law. You're not a lawyer and the court doesn't expect a legal discourse. The judge will apply the law to the facts of your case. Don't paint a one-sided picture. District Judges are very experienced at seeing both sides and will be more impressed by a party who presents a fair case. If you have a bad point, don't ignore it, but explain it in the most favourable way you can.
6. Use witnesses properly
If any of the facts of the small claims case are in doubt, you must prove that what you say is the correct version. Do this either by referring to documents or by another person's testimony. In the case of the latter, generally you must call that person to give evidence to the small claims court. Always have a signed statement of what that person intends to say. Send it to the other side and ask them to agree that you need not call the witness.
7. Detail your case
Note all the major points you want to make at the small claims court. You will be less likely to forget an item. You will also have dates, amounts, and other important points right at your fingertips. Remember, if you're making a small claim, it's you who has to prove your case to start with. If you don't do this, the defendant will have little work to do in defence. Make it as difficult as you can for the defendant by being fully prepared.
8. Keep your documents in order
Assemble your documents in date order and cross-index for order of presentation. Sometimes it helps to put them into a ring binder file. Also, make copies for the judge and your adversary so they can view the details of your small claim. If you have statements from witnesses, ensure that they are signed and dated. If there are more than just a few pages, number them in order so that it's easier for the judge to follow. It also makes it much quicker for you to answer any questions that may be asked. When your adversary is talking, make notes of those points that you will need to refer to and wait until they have finished before replying to them.
Published on: June 9, 2008