Small Claims Track, Fast Track and Multi Track
The Differences Explained
Once a claim has been issued in the county court and a defence is filed at court the normal process is that the court then sends out Directions Questionnaires to both the Claimant and the Defendant to complete and file, either the Form N181 for the small claims track or the Form N181 for the fast track and the multi-track. A track represents a process your case has to go through before you get to a hearing.
If you are unsure which track your case will be allocated to, here are the differences listed below.
The Small Claims Track
If the claim is for a debt below £10,000 in England and Wales and it is not a complex matter, then it will normally be allocated to the small claims track. After allocation the parties are offered a court mediation if both parties have requested it in their Directions Questionnaires. This is dealt with by telephone with the mediator speaking to each party individually in an attempt to reach a settlement. This service is free of charge. If the mediation is not successful, then a court date will be set for the small claims hearing which should be between 6-9 months.
The standard small claims track directions are that witness statements with the supporting evidence each party relies upon should be served and filed at least 14 days before the hearing. The hearing usually lasts at most half a day. On the small claims track, no costs are awarded to the successful party except court fees, unless there has been unreasonable conduct.
The Fast Track
The Fast Track is normally for claims with a value between £10,000-£25,000. The court will set directions for the case which will include disclosure, witness statements, pretrial check lists and a trial window during which the trial date can be set. It normally takes 12 months to reach trial and the trial should be for no longer than 1 day. Barristers fees for the trial itself are subject to fixed costs.
Costs are normally awarded on the standard basis to the successful party at the end of the trial by a process known as Summary Assessment. It is unusual for a party to receive all of their costs unless the court decides to order indemnity costs due to the losing parties conduct during the case. The normal amount awarded is around 75% of the amount claimed.
The Multi-Track is for claims that surpass £25,000 and that have complexity. The court will set directions for the case which will include a Costs Case Management Conference for costs budgets to be approved by the court, disclosure, witness statements, a case management conference, pretrial check list or hearing and a trial window during which the trial date can be set. Multi-track trials are normally 2 days or longer and depending on the complexity of the whole case, it can take anywhere between 1 and 2 years to reach a hearing.
After the trial, a successful party is normally awarded their costs but because the trial has normally lasted more than one day the costs are not normally summarily assessed. The usual order is that costs are to be assessed if not agreed by means of detailed assessment.
Mediation on the Fast Track and the Multi-Track
The Courts generally encourage mediation, but in both the Fast Track and Multi-Track both parties share the costs and mutually agree the venue and mediator. The parties can ask the court for a stay of proceedings for a month or two to allow mediation/settlement talks to take place.