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Small Claims Trial

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My First Court Case Viewing-Civil: Small Claims

On the 24th of August 2007, I, with the permission of the prosecution, defence and of course the judge was given the opportunity to quietly observe a civil small claims court case (court 5) at Bromley County Court.  This trial had been an ongoing stalemate for a few months; however I luckily was present on the judgement day.

Upon arrival the waiting room was busy since there were other more serious court cases going on.

The Prosecution, Mr. Austridge, representing himself (accompanied by his wife) was hired by the defence, Ms. Dudley (accompanied by her dad) and a lawyer, Mr. Jones to extend her house however due to a series of poor decisions and errors in workmanship, Dudley terminated the building contract, with her house left incomplete in a state troublesome to herself and her neighbour. Mr. Austridge was prosecuting her on account of his realisation he had been underpaid approximately £2000.

The sequence of events:

 -Ms. Dudley hired Mr. Austridge to extend her house, consisting of an extension of the kitchen, extension of the porch and a new ensuite bathroom for her bedroom.

 -Initially Mr Austridge received very inaccurate drawings from Ms Dudley however, he chose to use them anyway and build to her very erroneous specifications.  

-Mr. Austridge gave Ms Dudley an initial rough estimate of the project which she eventually agreed to after a gradually haggling to a lower value. Furthermore Mr. Austridge didn’t include the duration of the extension due to the fact that the time for this type of extension varies greatly due to the typical British weather and also the number of people there, nevertheless Ms. Dudley hired them and they started on the construction.

-After 8 weeks the construction was moving smoothly, with most of the groundwork complete. Dudley showed her satisfaction of the job by occasionally congratulating the builders. A week prior to this Dudley moved to her parent’s house without stating a reason. In fact reason for her leave was that she was allergic to dust but the judge was keen to see whether she brought it to Mr. Austridge’s attention it was unclear for my stay.

-2 weeks later Mr. Austridge went on holiday with his family to Cornwall for a 1 week stay; however it was extended by a week due to the fact there was a “hurricane” making it unsafe to return, Ms. Dudley grudgingly sympathised and didn’t make an issue of it.

- Mr. Austridge returns and immediately commits himself to the construction. 2 weeks later Ms. Dudley returned and started complaining that the porch was done wrong, and one of the windows was made of the wrong material. The kitchen was an issue because he made the kitchen in 2 parts one being in the extension and she was upset because in order to make it even he raised the ground.  She then again asked for a reduction in price for the errors plus for general saving of money and Austridge agreed and put less plug sockets, bulb sockets for the room.

- Due to heavy rain and the incomplete roof gutter (due to the extension) it overflowed into her neighbour’s garden leaving it a mess.

- Ms. Dudley terminates the contract, and Austridge requests a meeting with her, she claims that the work took to long and the workmanship was horrendous for the price.

- Mr. Austridge takes Dudley to court for inadequate payment in order to pay his team.

In my viewing Austridge stated that he reduced the payment in a very lenient way and that he was shocked that Dudley was so abrupt in terminating the contract, despite him stating the construction would have only lasted another week and then later contradicting himself saying it would only take a day.

Ms. Dudley strangely left her family in hardship by terminating the contract, she apparently told Austridge about the dust allergy but he denied it immediately. Her dad apparently checked the house everyday and said that he was confident that there was nobody occupying it for large periods of time while she was at her parents. Though not mentioning it to Austridge she said moving was extremely inconvenient and her disabled mother made it a greater ordeal for her. Dudley believes she was the one who should have been compensated and helping her neighbour who had also been adversely affected.

Mr. Jones gave me the impression that he was there to stall time as most of his points/contradictions were facts and figures which just hindered the case and Austridge did an excellent job of contradiction Mr. Jones’ which were backed by insufficient evidence meanwhile Mr. Austridge with stacks of paper work to back his points.

The judge was forced to recap the events when we went there which she found was futile so she therefore put her foot down and decided to make her decision on the same day.

I left before the final decision but I was given the impression it was a very cache 22 situation. Ms. Dudley believing if anything she overpaid and Mr. Austridge thinking he was underpaid. If I was given the opportunity to reach a verdict, from what I deduced, I think that Austridge had a much more powerful, believable case it was clear he was being too much of a nice guy when he reduced the price so willingly and considering Ms. Dudley made the regrettable decision of cancelling the contract, it is still affecting other members of her family and her neighbour, she got the bad end of the stick because of an atrocious decision. Mr. Austridge couldn’t avoid the out of the blue decision and therefore should have been paid for his work.

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