When Should You Go To Court?

Lloyd Barrett

Lloyd Barrett
Expert Answers

The following article might help you when have a problem and need to decide if it is worth going to court to get justice. Going to court for justice might not be as straight forward as you might think.

My Learned Friend (Learn-“ed” means that he is a Barrister and has obviously learned a lot, unlike the rest of us, who presumably are un-learn-ed and therefore know very little) once said to me that there are two things you should never see being made:- Law and sausages. Why sausages I have no idea. Never having seen sausages made, and quite liking some of the more interesting varieties that are now available, and in continuing pursuit of my gastronomic enjoyment I think I am going to avoid seeing sausages made.

What my friend actually meant was, “avoid going to Court to see law being enforced”. Why? Because quite simply, going to Court is a risky business. A very risky business. Never go to Court “on a principle”. Principles too can be expensive.

Sometimes, there is no alternative than to go to Court. It doesn’t matter what your rights are and whether, in law, (under the Sale of Goods Act or whatever) a shop is supposed to refund you your money back, the fact remains that if they won’t, you are faced with Court. True, Trading Standards do provide an excellent service and often resolve these matters but Trading Standards only offer consumer advice by and large. They won’t usually help if, for example, the problem is with something you bought for your business. (No doubt I will get every TS Dept in the country calling me next week to tell me that I am wrong).

Fortunately, civil matters are decided by the Court, “on the balance of probabilities”. What does that mean? It means quite simply that if the Judge believes your version 1% more than the other person, you win. The Judge can only make a decision based upon the facts presented and he must make a decision one way or the other. So, if your evidence is 51% convincing and the other side’s evidence is only 49% convincing then you win. Simples.

Criminal matters on the other hand are decided “beyond all reasonable doubt”. What does that mean?

It means that there has to be no doubt in the Magistrates or the jury’s mind that you committed whatever offence it is you stand accused of.

Why the difference? If someone is found guilty of a criminal offence, they may be deprived of their liberty (sent to jail). In the olden days they may have been hanged. Now whilst you can let somebody out of jail, hanging them is pretty final. I think you are probably beginning to get the picture.

But why avoid going to Court? Well for a criminal matter it is probably rather obvious but for a civil matter perhaps not so. If you are being prosecuted for a criminal offence your legal costs are usually met by the Legal Aid Fund. This is not the case in most civil matters. If you lose in anything other than the Small Claims Court you will usually have to pay not only your own legal costs but also the costs of the winner. True that if you win you can get a Costs Order for the loser to pay your costs but if the loser hasn’t got the money to pay then not only do you not get what you are claiming you also have to pay your own legal bill. A double whammy!

Negotiation is the key, well it used to be the key, but now mediation is the key. Same thing. You can get further with a kind word than with a gun. Of course, negotiations often break down and then you are faced with walking away or Court.

Given the choice I would rather watch sausages being made!

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