Last summer our client went to court to defend a small claim for an allegedly defective vehicle.
Usual story, the likelihood of a successful defence is largely based on how consumer friendly or realistic the Judge is. Here we had £3500 car, 76000 miles or thereabouts, sought rejection after three months with approximately 3600 additional miles on the clock. The type we deal with day in, day out.
The Deputy District Judge went on to rule in favour of the consumer/Claimant despite stating that there “was nothing apparently wrong” with the car at the point of sale. But exclaiming that it cannot be right that a consumer had to pay for substantial repairs so soon after purchase. Going on, as he did, to say that “anyone who buys a second hand car of this age, state and mileage, should be entitled to run the vehicle without major expense for at least two years.” Yes, that is right – TWO YEARS! Some 24,000 extra miles if the average of 1000 miles a month is used. The Judge allowed full refund minuns a small amount for use and the return of the car.
Our client and his advocate were beyond apoplectic. This opinion flew in the face of far higher ranking judges and courts than that of this Deputy District Judge. Client wanted to appeal. We understood why and prepared the required appeal documents. Well, not quite, for you have to apply for PERMISSION to appeal first of all. The paperwork itself is not too onerous – except for getting a typed transcript of the Judgment, which you have to get the chronically slow court to send to a transcriber and then the Judge who gave the decision has to approve it – which again takes time.
Permission to Appeal was considered by a Circuit Judge “on the papers” and she determined that permission was to be REFUSED on the basis that the appeal would have NO PROSPECT OF SUCCESS. She went on to say that whilst the Judge might not have been correct insofar as two years trouble-free motoring was concerned, he had established as a matter of fact that the car was not sold in accordance with the Consumer Rights Act. Matters of fact not being capable of being appealed.
Of course, if his (flawed) opinion was that a buyer had two years entitlement of use before having to incur major expense then that was clearly instrumental in his finding of “fact” the way that he did. Despite being refused permission to appeal initially, our undeterred client asked to be heard in person. They instructed a barrister at a cost who managed to convince the Circuit Judge at a hearing to GRANT permission to appeal and that the appeal itself was to be considered on the point of “durability” at a later date.
More paperwork and court bundles were prepared and sent to the court. The same barrister was appointed at a greater cost for the appeal hearing. Turn up and the court says that they have not received the court bundle and that the Judge will not hear it unless it is e-mailed immediately – and only if she has the time to do it. Whilst the e-mails were attended to the parties sat down with their respective barristers. Facing the prospect of an adjournment, yet ANOTHER hearing and ANOTHER expense for their respective barristers the parties agreed to settle. For £2500 plus the return of the car.
The moral of the story is that principles cost money. Unfortunately that is money that has to be paid for by the parties in dispute and not the courts themselves – whose incompetence goes with out reproach. No matter how bad the decision is in a small claims court hearing the advice is simple. Don’t even think about appealing it.