This is the Sheffield Combined Court Centre which I have been attending regularly since it was opened in 1995. It is a clean, spacious building with lots of natural light and a good café. However, hundreds clients have told me that it is the last place in the world they want to go to.
I suspect that their views are based on fictitious TV Court scenes which usually involve somebody being tried for a serious crime in a popular series or soap opera. I often have to reassure clients that the trials of Peter Barlow, Charity Dingle and others are nothing like civil hearings.
Personal Injury trials are held before a Judge on his or her own (some of them are younger than me!) with no jury present and usually no press or interested members of the public. Parties and witnesses are often allowed to sit down to give evidence and in most cases, none of the barristers or the judge are wearing wigs and gowns.
Cases only reach a final hearing if it has not been possible to settle the claim and the parties cannot agree who was to blame for the client’s injury, how much it is worth or both. Less than 1 per cent of our cases reach a final hearing, but when they do, we make sure that that the clients are fully prepared for the occasion. I usually suggest that they go to the Court Building and watch another case or two in the weeks before theirs so they know what to expect. We ensure that they have met their barrister before the hearing, know the Court procedure and what to expect by way of questions. On the morning of the hearing, we meet them at Court, hold a pre-hearing discussion with the barrister and always try to negotiate a last minute settlement with the opponents, which is often successful.
I have had two cases reach a County Court hearing this year, both with positive outcomes. A client of mine won over £10,000 for a hand injury after a judge ruled that his employer was responsible after a 4 day hearing. He told me that giving evidence was nowhere near as bad as he thought it would be and was glad that he had taken the case to a trial.
Earlier this week, a client I have known for several years attended the Combined Court building for the first time, being worried about giving evidence and knowing he could win or lose his claim after a road traffic accident. He was delighted when our barrister was able to settle the case before he had to give evidence. He also thinks that taking the case to a final hearing was a good idea
If you think that taking your personal injury claim to Court will be a terrifying experience, my advice is that it won’t be and if you are in doubt, go and have a look at another case in progress and/or ask someone who has been through the experience.
As we have the first forecast of snow of the winter tomorrow, Mrs Stittle and I will heading South. Sadly we are only going as far as London for a short break and, I am told, to do “some shopping”. I hope you enjoy your weekend and avoid all types of Court!