From 1 June 2022, the new Practice Direction 51ZC comes into force, pursuant to the 143rd Practice Direction Update. It initiates a 2-year pilot scheme in the County Courts at Bedford, Luton, Guildford, Staines, Cardiff and Manchester.
For claims issued after 1 June 2022 at those Courts (or transferred to one of those Courts having been issued elsewhere after 1 June 2022), the Court will have the power to direct that a Small Claim be determined without a hearing, without the agreement of all the parties as is currently required in CPR 27.10.
The pilot does not apply to housing disrepair claims, or to claims within the RTA Small Claims Protocol started in line with PD 27B. Paragraph 4.1 of PD 51ZC states: “A determination without a hearing can be a proportionate and efficient means of determining a small claim in cases where it is not necessary to hear oral evidence or oral advocacy to determine the issues justly.”
Examples of small claims which may be suitable for determinations without a hearing are given at paragraph 4.4 – these include flight delay or denied boarding claims, private parking charges, and any other claim of £1000 or less by value where there is no significant factual dispute which requires oral evidence, and the issues are not of such complexity as to require oral advocacy.
Notably, the hearing centres of Bedford and Luton routinely deal with flight claims headquartered at London Luton Airport; Guildford and Staines process a large proportion of claims against airlines based at or near London Heathrow Airport.
The Pilot Courts will use an amended Form N180 (the Directions Questionnaire for Small Claims), wherein each party is to indicate whether they agree that the claim is suitable for determination without a hearing, or the reasons for objecting to such a course of action. The Court may direct that the case will be determined without a hearing, whether the parties agree or not.
The Court will give at least 21 days’ notice of the date of determination without a hearing – paragraph 5.1. Objections to this by way of short written submissions may be filed at least 7 days before the date of determination – paragraph 5.2.
A note of reasons must be given by the Judge where a claim is determined on paper, and copies sent to each party – paragraph 5.3. Non parties may obtain those written reasons – paragraph 5.4.
A party who is dissatisfied with an outcome may not apply to set aside the judgment under CPR 27.11 but may seek permission to appeal under CPR 52.3. The appeal Court will take into account the summary nature of the note of reasons produced following the paper determination – paragraph 6.1.