The best way to succeed at a court hearing is not to have one. Litigation is always uncertain and anyone who tells you that you are certain of winning should not be trusted. There are however a number of things which will add to your chances of success where settling a claim by negotiation or mediation has not proved possible and you are left with the only possibility of having the issues decided by a judge.
1. Learn the ropes. As a litigant in person you cannot expect to know everything a lawyer who has spent years dealing with cases will know. You can however learn the basics of court procedure, etiquette and how to present your case. A lot can be learned by visiting the court beforehand, sitting through some hearings and watching how it is done. Listen how experienced advocates address the judge, present their case and conclude their argument.
2. Understand how to present your case. You are not going to win your case just because you are morally right and have been hard done by. You are going to have to show the judge that you have a legally recognisable cause of action and that what you say is supported by the evidence. Learn the basics of contract law, tort, property law or the legal principles of whatever your case is about.
3. Make sure your evidence is relevant and admissible. Think through what you need to show to prove your case and all its elements and that your evidence will be admissible. The rules of evidence are complicated and although relaxed in small claims you should be aware of the basics.
4. Get organised. You will only have a short time to present your case and when it is gone it has gone. If you forget to say something you may have missed your chance. Make a short list of the points you just must get out.
5. Provide proof for what you say. When you give your evidence you will usually be walking the judge through your version of events behind your claim. In a well prepared claim you should be able to show proof of everything to satisfy the elements of your claim and you should refer to these as you go along. Thus in a claim for defective building work you will refer the judge to the agreement and terms for carrying out the work.
6. Remember you must also prove your loss. It is not enough just to show that your opponent has breached a contract or injured you. You must also show that this has resulted in the loss you are claiming and that you are entitled to the full amount of your claim in compensation. If you do not show this, you may end up with a judgment in your favour but not be awarded what you asking for.
7. Comply with court orders and rules. The judge will take orders made by the court for the conduct of your case seriously and you will start off well by being to show that you have complied with all orders and preparatory steps.
8. Show respect for the judge, the court and the process. Read our article on court etiquette and behaviour. Don’t slag off your opponent even if you consider him a lying despicable toe rag.