Small claims court

Small-claims courts have limited jurisdiction to hear civil cases between private litigants. Courts authorized to try small claims may also have other judicial functions, and go by different names in different jurisdictions. For example, it may be known as a county or magistrate's court. These courts can be found in Australia, Brazil, Canada, England and Wales, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, New Zealand, Philippines, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa and the United States.

Purpose and operation

The jurisdiction of small-claims courts typically encompasses private disputes that do not involve large amounts of money. The routine collection of small debts forms a large portion of the cases brought to small-claims courts, as well as evictions and other disputes between landlords and tenants, unless the jurisdiction is already covered by a tenancy board.

A small-claims court generally has a maximum monetary limit to the amount of judgments it can award, often in the thousands of dollars/pounds. By suing in a small-claims court, the plaintiff typically waives any right to claim more than the court can award. The plaintiff may or may not be allowed to reduce a claim to fit the requirements of this venue. 'Court shopping'—where a plaintiff reduces the damage claim amount to have a trial in a court that otherwise does not have jurisdiction—is strictly forbidden in some states. For example, if a plaintiff asserts damages of $30,000 in hopes of winning an award of $25,000 in small-claims court, the court dismisses the case because the court does not have jurisdiction to hear cases in which asserted damages exceed the court's maximum amount.

Thus, even if the plaintiff is willing to accept less than the full amount, the case cannot be brought to small-claims court. To bring the case to small-claims court, the plaintiff must prove that actual damages are within the court's jurisdiction. In some jurisdictions, a party who loses in a small-claims court is entitled to a trial de novo in a court of more general jurisdiction and with more formal procedures.

The rules of civil procedure, and sometimes of evidence, are typically altered and simplified to make the procedures economical. A usual guiding principle in these courts is that individuals ought to be able to conduct their own cases and represent themselves without a lawyer. Rules are relaxed but still apply to some degree. In some jurisdictions, corporations must still be represented by a lawyer in small-claims court. Expensive court procedures such as interrogatories and depositions are usually not allowed in small-claims court, and practically all matters filed in small-claims court are set for trial. Under some court rules, should the defendant not show up at trial and not have requested a postponement, a default judgment may be entered in favour of the plaintiff.

Trial by jury is seldom or never conducted in small-claims courts; it is typically excluded by the statute establishing the court. Similarly, equitable remedies such as injunctions, including protective orders, are seldom available from small-claims courts.

Separate family courts may exist to hear simple cases in family law. For reasons having more to do with history than with the sort of case typically heard by a small-claims court, most US states do not allow domestic relations disputes in small-claims court.

Winning in small-claims court does not automatically ensure payment in recompense of a plaintiff's damages. This may be relatively easy, in the case of a dispute against an insured party, or extremely difficult, in the case of an uncooperative, transient, or indigent defendant. The judgment may be collected through wage garnishment and liens.

Most courts encourage parties with disputes to seek alternative dispute resolution, if possible, before filing suit. For example, the Superior Court of California, Santa Clara provides guidelines for resolving disputes out of court. Both parties can agree on arbitration by a third party to settle their dispute outside of court, though while small-claims court judgments can still be appealed,[1] arbitration awards cannot.


The Mayor's and City of London Court is the successor to the several medieval courts in the City of London, one being the Court of Conscience for recovery of small debts. This was a type of equity court. A similar Court of Conscience was established by charter in some ancient boroughs in Ireland; this was emulated in others, without legal sanction until regularised by the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840.[2][3][4]

Around the globe


Small claims are handled differently by each state and territory, with most relying on tribunals while others have a minor claims division of their respective magistrates court:[5]


In Belgium, the justices of the peace (Dutch: vredegerecht, French: justice de paix, German: friedensgericht) function as the small claims courts in the country's judicial system; they stand at the bottom of the Belgian judicial hierarchy and only handle civil cases. There is a justice of the peace in each judicial canton of Belgium, of which there are 187 in total as of 2017. The justices of the peace have original jurisdiction over cases in which the disputed amount does not exceed 5,000 euro (as of September 2018), except for the matters over which another court or tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction. In addition, the justices of the peace have original jurisdiction over a number of matters irrespective of the disputed amount, such as cases involving the renting or leasing of real estate, evictions, easement, land consolidation, consumer credit or unpaid utility bills. The justices of the peace also have original jurisdiction in certain aspects of family law, most notably legal guardianships for incapacitated seniors, and the involuntary commitment of the mentally ill to psychiatric facilities. The judgments made by the justices of the peace can, with some exceptions, be appealed to the tribunals of first instance.[12][13]


Small claim courts in Brazil were established by Law No. 9,099/1995[14] and Article One of such law states that they shall be organized by both Federal Judiciary and State Judiciary. Therefore, there are Federal Small Claim Courts (single noun Juizado Especial Federal), as well as Small Claim Courts that are part of a state's judiciary structure. The Small Claim Courts that belong to a State's Judiciary are subdivided into two types of courts: the Special Civil Court (Juizado Especial Cívil, shortened as JEC) and the Special Criminal Court (Juizado Especial Criminal, shortened as Jecrim). Under Article Three of Law No. 9,099/1995, Civil Claims involving an amount up to 40 (forty) monthly minimal wages or R$24,880.00 (October 2012), which correspond to roughly US$12,440.00, may be filed before a Special Civil Court, as well as small claims involving landlords and some claims set by Article 275, II, of the Code of Civil Procedure. Special Criminal Courts, on the other hand, may process claims involving small criminal offences, which, under Article 60 of Law No. 9,099/1995 are those either set by the Contraventions Law (Decree No. 3,688/1941) or those where the penalty does not surpass 02 (two years). As per Article 54, there are no court fees for the Small Claim Courts. However, if an appeal is filed, court fees shall be applied.


All provinces have procedures for small claims in Canada. In general, there are two different models. In most provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick, small-claims courts operate independently of the superior courts. In other jurisdictions, the small-claims court is a branch or division of the superior court. In Ontario, the Small-Claims Court is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice, and in Manitoba, the Small-Claims Court is under the jurisdiction of the Court of the Queen's Bench.

Small-claims cases are heard by judges of the Provincial Court in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, by judges or deputy judges of the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, and by Hearing Officers in Manitoba.

Small-claims courts are meant to provide an easier and less expensive path to resolve disputes than the higher courts. Small-claims court procedure is regulated both by provincial legislation and rules in most provinces. The small-claims procedure is simplified with no strict pleadings requirements and no formal discovery process, and parties' costs may be limited.

Monetary limits for small-claims courts in Canada vary by province:

  • Alberta: The Provincial Court—Civil hears civil claims up to $50,000.
  • Nova Scotia: The maximum claim that may be recovered in the Small-Claims Court cannot exceed $25,000.
  • British Columbia: The maximum claim that may be recovered in the Small-Claims Division of the Provincial Court is $35,000. However since 2017, claims under $5000 are typically resolved by a Civil Resolution Tribunal.[15]
  • Manitoba: Small-Claims Courts adjudicated claims up to $10,000.[16]
  • New Brunswick: Claims to the Small-Claims Court of New Brunswick must be less than $12,500.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: The Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador hears civil claims up to $25,000.
  • Ontario: The new limit for small-claims is $25,000.[17]
  • Quebec: The new limit for claims to the Small-Claims Court of Quebec per January 2015 is $15,000.
  • Saskatchewan: Claims within the Civil Division of the Saskatchewan Provincial Court cannot exceed $20,000 in value.

In general, disputes involving title to land, slander, libel, bankruptcy, false imprisonment, or malicious prosecution must be handled in a superior court and cannot be determined in small-claims courts.

England and Wales

England and Wales does not have a separate small claims court.[18] They are usually dealt with in the County Court after being allocated to the small claims track of the County Court system. Small claims take place under a modified set of rules.[19] Low-value cases, including most non-personal injury cases up to £10,000, are usually assigned to the small claims track, producing a small claims action in the County Court. These cases are heard by district judges under an informal procedure.[20]

An important difference between small claims and other civil claims is that the parties are usually unable to recover their legal costs, regardless of who wins or loses. For this reason, most individuals and businesses involved in small claims deal with them without legal representation.[21] The winning party will, however, generally be able to recover the following costs, fee and expenses from the losing party:[22]

  • fixed costs on commencement;[23]
  • court fees;[24]
  • expenses reasonably incurred by the winner and his/her witnesses in travelling to/from a hearing or in staying away from home for the purposes of attending a hearing;
  • loss of earnings or loss of leave for the winner and his/her witnesses due to attending a hearing or staying away from home for the purpose of attending a hearing (capped at £95 per day for each person);[25]
  • expert fees (capped at £750 for each expert)[26]

The separate small claims procedure was first introduced for claims up to £75 in 1973.[27] This flowed from the statutory power of judges to order arbitration.[28] The limit was raised to £1,000 in 1991, £3,000 in 1996, £5,000 in 1999 and £10,000 in 2013.[29] As of 2011 consultation is underway on raising the limit to £15,000.[27] The limit is only a guideline. The court may allocate a case to the small claim track where the claim is over the guideline if it is considered that the case is simple enough that it is an appropriate way of disposing of the matter.

European Union

A European Small Claims Procedure for cross-border claims under the Brussels regime was established on 1 January 2009, processing claims with values up to 2,000 EUR.[30][31] The monetary limit of claims has been increased to 5,000 EUR effective from 14 July 2017.[32]


The "small claims court" is an informal name for the District Court when operating under its Small Claims Procedure court rules.[33] The Courts of Conscience of boroughs in the Republic of Ireland were superseded under the Courts of Justice Act, 1924 by the District Court, which operates throughout the state.[34] Small claims cases were processed in the same manner as other summary judgments of the District Court until 1991, when a separate "small claims procedure" was first specified.[35] The current District Court small claims procedure rules date from 2007, with amendments down to 2009.[36] The European Small Claims Procedure is used where one party is in another EU member state.[33]


The Kenyan Small Claims Court was established in 2016 under section 4 of the Small Claim Act No.2 of 2016. This court is a subordinate court as per Article 169(1) (d) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 and its geographical jurisdiction covers sub-counties or any other units of decentralization under the Constitution.[37] Each Small Claims Court is presided over by an adjudicator appointed by the Judicial Service Commission. The Chief Justice can also designate any qualified person to act in as an adjudicator (section 6(1) and (2).[38] To qualify under section 8 for appointment to be an adjudicator, a person must:[39] a) be an advocate of the High Court of Kenya with three years of legal experience, or b) be trained as a paralegal at the Kenya School of Law. The court deals with civil cases provided for under section 12 which arise from:[40] a) contracts for sale and supply of goods or services; b) liability in tort arising from loss or damage to any property or for delivery or recovery of movable property; c) compensation for personal injuries; d) set-off or counterclaims under any contract; and e) any other civil matters that written may confer. Though the court’s pecuniary jurisdiction is limited to KES 200,000 (approximately 2,000 USD), Section 12(4) gives the Chief Justice the power to review that limit to any amount he thinks fit via a Gazette notice.[41]


Small Claims court in Nigeria is similar to the ones in the United States and England. They are specially designated courts that hear and determine debt recovery cases of a small and liquidated debt. The small claims courts were introduced in Lagos Nigeria in April 2018 by the Chief Judge of Lagos State Justice Opeyemi Oke . It is not clear if it was a world bank initiative or as a Lagos State Judiciary reform as the time of establishing the courts coincided with the PEBEC and world bank motive to improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria through seamless debt recovery court procedure.[42] At the establishment ceremony, 15 magistrates courts across the five judicial divisions of Lagos were designated as small claims court. The five judicial divisions include Lagos Island, Ikeja, Yaba, Badagry and Ikorodu.[43]

The small claims courts are presided over by magistrates who hear and determine cases on debt claims not exceeding five million Naira. To institute a small claims matter, either the defendant or the claimant must be residing or doing business within the judicial division of the court.


Similar to the UK, small-claims can be handled in Singapore through State Courts of Singapore.

United States

The movement to establish small-claims courts typically began in the early 1960s, when justice of the peace courts were increasingly seen as obsolete, and officials felt it desirable to have such a court to allow people to represent themselves without legal counsel. In New York State, small claims courts were established in response to the 1958 findings of Governor Thomas E. Dewey's Tweed Commission on the reorganization of the state judiciary. Since then, the movement towards small-claims courts has led to their establishment in most U.S. states.

There is no equivalent to a small-claims court in the federal court. (Note that Congress has set the jurisdictional minimum for diversity jurisdiction cases at greater than $75,000). Magistrate judges are authorized to handle certain preliminary matters. Since the year 2010, the costs of filing fees have increased in almost every state court system. Filing fees typically range from US$15 to $150, depending on the claim amount. The alternative to small claims court include less expensive, faster online dispute resolution and settlement services, where potential litigants settle their disputes at a lower cost without requiring or involving any adjudicative process.


Some jurisdictions offer classes in small-claims court procedures. As such courts are open to the public, attendance at a few sessions may be useful to a person involved in a case, whether as plaintiff or defendant.

On television

Several small-claims proceedings have appeared on television in court shows; however, the settings in these programs are not truly courts of law, even though they attempt to give off the appearance as such, they are merely forms of arbitration. Such shows include The People's Court, Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Mathis, etc., all of which feature retired judges as the arbitrator.[44]

See also


  1. "Small Claims Court is Arkansas" (PDF). Retrieved Feb 8, 2011.
  2. Hughes, J. L. J. (April 1959). "The Dublin Court of Conscience". Dublin Historical Record. Old Dublin Society. 15 (2): 42–49 : 42. JSTOR 30102678.
  3. Commissioners Appointed to Inquire into the Municipal Corporations In Ireland (1835). Report. Sessional papers. London: William Clowes for HMSO. p. 29. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  4. Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Act 1840 §§185–196
  5. "Small claims tribunals". Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. 2012-12-11. Retrieved 2016-07-05.
  6. "Civil Dispute Applications - Guide to Applicants". ACAT - ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. ACT Law Courts and Tribunal Administration. 12 August 2017. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  7. "Civil cases". NSW Local Court. State of New South Wales (Department of Justice). 26 November 2014. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  12. "Vredegerecht" [Justice of the peace]. (in Dutch). College of the courts and tribunals of Belgium. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  13. "Judiciary – Organization" (PDF). Parliamentary information sheet № 22.00. Belgian Chamber of Representatives. 1 June 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  14. "Law No. 9,099/1995 (in Portuguese)". Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  15. "What is Small Claims".
  16. "Small Claims". 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  17. "Small Claims Court - Increase in monetary limit from $10,000 to $25,000 - Ministry of the Attorney General". Retrieved 2012-08-13.
  18. "How to make a claim". HMCS. Her Majesty's Court Service. Retrieved 2010-07-03.
  19. "Small Claims Court Rules". Small Claims Court Genie.
  20. Civil Procedure Rules, Part 27 Archived 2011-05-09 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "Small Claims Court". Small Claims Court Genie.
  22. Civil Procedure Rules, Rule 27.14
  23. Calculated in accordance with the Civil Procedure Rules, Rule 45.2, Table 1
  24. Calculated based on the amount claimed (plus interest). See EX50 - Civil and Family Court Fees - High Court and County Court.
  25. Practice Direction 27, para 7.3(1)
  26. Practice Direction 27, para 7.3(2)
  27. "Solving disputes in the county courts: creating a simpler, quicker and more proportionate system" (PDF). Ministry of Justice. p. 34. Retrieved 2011-04-11.
  28. County Courts Act 1959, s.92 subsequently County Courts Act 1984, s.64
  29. Fairbairn, Catherine. "Small claims for personal injuries including whiplash". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. Regulation (EC) No 861/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 establishing a European Small Claims Procedure (OJ L 199, 31 July 2007, p. 1–22)
  31. "European small claims procedure". Europa. European Union. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
  32. Regulation (EU) 2015/2421 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2015 amending Regulation (EC) No 861/2007 establishing a European Small Claims Procedure and Regulation (EC) No 1896/2006 creating a European order for payment procedure (OJ L 341, 24 December 2015, p. 1–13)
  33. "Small claims procedure". Ireland: Citizens Information Board. 5 September 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  34. "The Courts of Justice Act, 1924, Section 78". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  35. "S.I. No. 310/1991 - District Court (Small Claims Procedure) Rules, 1991". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  36. "Small Claims Procedure". Courts Service of Ireland. 23 January 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2017.
  37. "The Small Claims Act No. 2 of 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  38. "The Small Claims Act No. 2 of 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  39. "The Small Claims Act No. 2 of 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  40. "The Small Claims Act No. 2 of 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  41. "The Small Claims Act No. 2 of 2016" (PDF). Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  42. "Examining Lagos small claims courts, their mechanisms in other jurisdictions". Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  43. "Lagos posts 15 magistrates to small claims courts". Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  44. See Category:Court shows
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.