Presenting your evidence in the small claims court Part 1
In the small claims court matters are resolved speedily, inexpensively and informally. As a litigant, whether you are the Plaintiff (the Claimant) or the Defendant (the party opposing the claim), you must conduct your own case without legal representation.
Proceedings are inquisitorial so the commissioner plays an active role in supervising the presentation of the evidence, assisting the parties and the witnesses in presenting their evidence. The inquisitorial system is a method of adjudication in which the commissioner endeavours to ascertain the facts by questioning the parties, weighing the evidence and arriving at a decision. The commissioner will actively steer the parties to determine the facts. The commissioner is not a passive recipient of information.
That does not mean, however, that you can sit back and expect the commissioner to make your case or your defence for you. The commissioner will have read any papers filed in court setting out the claim or the defence. As the party to the action you are best placed to ensure that all the relevant facts and evidence are placed before the court. So, you must prepare accordingly and thoroughly. If you have seen the tv series, “Judge Judy” or “Judge Rinder”, which are American and British television series representative of the small claims court process in those jurisdictions, they will give you a sense of how the process works but without the theatrics.
If you are not a regular litigant in the small claims court (hopefully you are not) and you have the opportunity to, it is a good idea to go and sit in and listen to proceedings in the small claims court closest to you before your trial date. It does not matter if that is not the court which will hear your case. That time will be well spent in giving you a sense of the court procedure, what type of questions the commissioner asks, and to see what the parties in those cases do well or badly so you hopefully do not repeat their mistakes.
Make sure you are at the court on the appointed date well before the time when your case will be called so that you can have ample time to find the specific court, sit down, find your breath and meet up with any witnesses you have arranged to attend.
Donald is a long standing commissioner of the small claims court in Johannesburg. He is also a director at Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc.
Donald Dinnie Director Norton Rose Fulbright South Africa Inc
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