Simple procedure actions are designed to provide a "speedy, inexpensive and informal way" of resolving non-injury claims valued below £5,000. This quick and easy guide outlines the key components and necessary steps for those wishing to raise a simple procedure claim, or for those who find themselves having to defend a simple procedure action.
How do you initiate proceedings?
A simple procedure action is initiated by a claim form (Form 3A). The claim form provides the court with details about the parties ("the claimant" and "the respondent"), as well as the factual circumstances of the dispute, what remedy the claimant is seeking and why their claim should, in terms of the law, succeed. The claimant should also include in their claim form, information regarding any evidence that they wish to rely on in support of their case, including details of any witnesses.
The completed claim form should be submitted to the court for registration and then served on the respondent. From 1 December 2020, claim forms must be registered electronically via a system called, Civil Online.
Once the claim form has been registered, the court will issue a timetable which includes key dates by which the claim form must be served on the respondent and the final date for the respondent to submit their response to the court.
At this stage, the respondent can either (i) elect to lodge a response accepting liability and if necessary, request time to pay the sum owed to the claimant or (ii) dispute liability and/or the value of the claim. Should no response be submitted, the claimant can ask the court for a decision to be made in their favour.
What happens after a response form has been lodged?
The Sheriff will produce written orders either dismissing the case, arranging a case management discussion, arranging a hearing or will refer the matters to be resolved by a form of alternative dispute resolution.
Usually if the claim, or part of it, has been disputed, a case management discussion will be fixed. This is a discussion between the parties and the Sheriff to allow the Sheriff to ascertain the parties' positions and the potential scope for settlement without the need for an evidential hearing (explained below).
Both parties should be properly prepared for a case management discussion, as it is not uncommon for the Sheriff to resolve the dispute, or at least part of the dispute, at that discussion. Case management discussions can take place in person within the court, by a conference call or by any other method that the Sheriff deems appropriate. However, due to Covid-19, the case management discussions are currently being conducted by telephone.
If no agreement can be reached at a case management discussion, an evidential hearing will be fixed and parties will have the opportunity to present their evidence to the court in support of their argument. That usually means witnesses being called to speak to what happened and/or the loss incurred. At the end of the hearing, the Sheriff will then make their decision on the outcome of the case.
Are simple procedure actions expensive?
Whilst simple procedure is designed to be a more affordable method of dispute resolution, there are still costs which will be incurred by a claimant and potentially the respondent. The successful party in a simple procedure action may be able to claim costs back from the other side. The level of such costs can vary.
To raise a simple procedure action, the claimant must pay a fee to the court. For claims valued at less than £300 the fee due to the court is £19, and for claims of more than £300 the fee is £106. There may be other costs - for example, if you need to instruct an expert report to support your case.
While it is not always necessary to instruct a solicitor for a simple procedure action, it can be helpful.