Referring small claims to court
What happens if my small claim cannot be resolved?
You will receive a letter from the District Court office with the date and time of the court hearing, and the location of the court itself. The case will be heard in public as part of a normal sitting of the District Court.
If you have made the claim, you are known as the claimant. The person you have claimed against is known as the respondent.
What if I am not available on the court date?
If you cannot attend court on the date of the hearing, you should tell the District Court office and the respondent immediately.
You may ask to have the date adjourned (changed to another date). Only the judge can make this order and you must have a very good reason for not being able to attend or go ahead with the case on that date.
If you cannot attend yourself, you can send a representative to make the request to the court on your behalf.
Preparing for court
It is very important to prepare yourself for the court hearing. It may be advisable to get legal advice.
Under Irish law, a business is required to be legally represented in court.
If you are not familiar with the court process, you should familiarise yourself with the layout of the court and how it works. You can read about how the courts work on the Courts Service website.
What will I need to do in court?
You will need to tell the judge the nature of your relationship with the respondent
For example, you may be:
- The consumer and the respondent is the retailer or service provider
- The owner of a property that the respondent has allegedly damaged
You will also need to tell the court:
- The details of the claim
- What went wrong and how you handled it
- How much you are claiming for
You should also draw the court’s attention to any areas of consumer law that are relevant to your situation.
Explaining the law can be difficult, so you may wish to:
You can read more about your consumer rights.
Evidence and witnesses
When presenting your information to the court, you should back it up with evidence wherever possible.
Examples of evidence include:
- Receipt or proof of purchase
- The damaged or faulty goods
- Photographs of poor workmanship, damaged property or poor quality goods or services that cannot be brought to court
- Advertisements or other documents you relied on when buying the goods or services
You can also get an independent opinion by an expert and have them appear as your witness in court. You are responsible for any expense this involves.
You can also ask any other person who can support your claim, especially in cases of faulty service, to attend court as a witness. If necessary, you can send them a witness summons – the Small Claims Registrar can issue this on your behalf for a small fee.
The court hearing
On the day of your court hearing, you will have to attend the District Court. This will be open to the public and it will be a District Court judge that will hear your case.
When your case is called, you will hear your name called out and then the name of the respondent. At this point, you should stand up and identify yourself to the court.
The Small Claims Registrar will call out a summary of your case to the judge. You will be asked to go to the witness box to swear an oath to tell the truth. The Court Clerk will assist you with this process.
Making your case
The judge will then ask you to begin your case. This is where you must give your side of the dispute. You should make your case as clearly as possible and support it with the relevant evidence.
When speaking to the judge, be sure to address them as “Judge” and direct all answers to them.
The procedure for making your case usually takes the following steps:
- You present your case to the court.
- The judge will ask you questions which you should answer as best as you can.
- The respondent will be allowed to ask you questions, which you should answer as best as you can and without starting an argument.
- You will be allowed to call your witnesses, if you have any, and they will be questioned by you and the respondent.
Once you have given your evidence, the respondent will be asked to make their defence and present their evidence. If your case is against a company, a representative of the company will speak on its behalf.
The respondent’s defence
The procedure for the respondent making their defence follows the same steps as it does for you. You will be able to question the respondent and any witnesses they may call to give evidence.
You can prepare for this by:
- Studying any documentation the respondent shared during the small claims procedure, such as the Notice of Dispute and Counterclaim forms
- Preparing questions to ask in court
You should also listen carefully to what the respondent says while in the witness box as you can challenge any evidence you do not agree with at this time.
When will the court make its decision?
When you and the respondent have presented your evidence, and when all witnesses have been heard, the judge will usually make their decision immediately.
If I win the case
If the judge decides in your favour, they will make an order or decree for the respondent to resolve the claim. The judge can make any order they see fit and they will make an order which suits your particular case.
They may order the respondent to:
- Pay an amount of money
- Complete the service you asked for
- Repair the faulty goods
If the court makes a decree for an amount of money to be paid, the respondent has 28 calendar days to pay you.
If the court makes any other type of decree, it will usually set a time limit for this to be completed.
If I lose the case
If the judge decides not to uphold your claim, your case will be dismissed. This means that no order or decree will be made in your favour.
You are not liable for the respondent’s costs if you lose a small claims procedure case that was referred to the District Court.
Can the court’s decision be appealed?
If either you or the respondent are unhappy with the decision of the District Court, you have the right to appeal to the Circuit Court.
The judge can award costs against you in the Circuit Court, so it is important to carefully consider any decision to appeal.