Presenting your evidence in the small claims court Part 2
Do not be guided by your favourite television lawyer series. You do not get to ‘put it to the witness’ or deliver an impassioned emotional speech to the jury. Television programmes usually represent the adversarial system where opposing parties gather and present evidence and arguments to the presiding officer. That is not the process adopted in the small claims court.
You do not get to cross-examine a witness. You can suggest questions which the commissioner can put to the other party or their witnesses or with the commissioner’s permission and through the commissioner, direct questions to that party or witnesses.
You should prepare your case thoroughly. Practice your presentation before a friend or family member. If you have no friends or family members, practice in front of a mirror. Identify the key facts of the case and ensure that your case is set out simply and in chronological order.
It is useful to practice with a friend or family member not familiar with the claim and use them to comment on whether, on your presentation, they could easily understand your case or defence. You need to communicate your story simply and clearly. If they are confused, it is likely that the commissioner will also be confused. Do not complicate or confuse your case with irrelevant facts or evidence. You only have “one bite at the cherry”. There is no appeal of the judgment if the commissioner gets the decision wrong on the facts. Bear in mind that any evidence having reasonable value of proof may be offered, but also that the commissioner may refuse to accept irrelevant, or repetitious evidence or arguments. Usually proceedings take place in open court. That is members of the public, including the media, can attend.
If you have any documentation pertinent to the claim or defence, make sure you take the original documentation to your hearing. If you do not have access to the original documentation, you need to bring along, if possible, certified copies of the documentation, and ensure you have copies to provide to your opponent. Often parties arrive at the small claims court and tell the commissioner that they do not have the documentation with them. That may result in a postponement of the case or the matter being determined without the benefit of that documentation.
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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