LEGAL EAGLE: What to do if you are being sued
On too many occasions, persons served with court documents as defendants in civil proceedings in the courts of Jamaica are at a loss as to what to do. This week, attention will be focused on proceedings in the Supreme Court in which a person is named as a defendant and next week, we will look at proceedings in the Parish Courts.
The documents issued from the registry of the Supreme Court, upon the commencement of proceedings, are likely to be a claim form with particulars of claim, a fixed-date claim form with an affidavit in support of it or a petition with supporting affidavits. These documents are, generally, accompanied by other documents, particularly a form of acknowledgement of service, a form of defence, and prescribed notes for defendants.
READ THROUGH DOCUMENTS
These documents will advise you, as the defendant, what to do next. So, the best approach is for you to first read the documents or have them read to him. If you do not understand what is read and you cannot afford an attorney-at-law, then go to the registry and seek assistance from the legal clerks.
From the date you received the documents, you will generally have 14 days to acknowledge service. The acknowledgment of service is very important, if you intend to dispute the claim or the jurisdiction of the court. The form of acknowledgement of service that is served on you with the claim form should be completed and filed at the registry and a copy served on the party who has brought the matter against you, the claimant.
This is an important first step because, in the absence of the filing and service of an acknowledgment of service, the claimant has the option to apply for judgment in default against you. This means, in effect, that you could be held liable to the claimant without a trial of the matter, even though you are not admitting liability.
Six weeks. That is the time you generally have to file your defence or response to the claim, if the relevant papers are served on you in Jamaica. If you are served with the claim form and particulars of claim, you will have to file and serve a defence. The form of defence served on you with the claim form should be completed, filed and served. If you are served with a fixed-date claim form with an affidavit in support, you need to prepare, file and serve an affidavit in response, instead of a defence. If you should fail to file a defence or an affidavit in response, the claimant would also be entitled to obtain judgment in default against you on that basis.
After the required documents have been filed and served by you, there is still another important step. If you are served with a fixed-date claim form or petition, you should note that it contains a date and time to attend court. You must attend court on the date and at the time indicated on the form. If the matter is commenced by a claim form it will, routinely, be referred to mediation after the defence is filed and served. You or the claimant may, however, apply to the court to have mediation dispensed with.
If mediation is dispensed with or failed, the matter will be set down before a judge for a case management conference. At that conference, a timetable will be set for the subsequent trial of the matter.
In all of this, an alternative approach could be to engage the services of an attorney-at-law to simply guide you through the preliminary process, even if you cannot afford legal representation for the trial.