Legal Eagle: Self-representation when being sued in a parish court
The question to be answered today is: what should a person, who is sued in the parish court, do if he is unable to afford an attorney-at-law?
If you are sued to appear in the parish court, you are the defendant, and the person bringing the suit is the plaintiff. In a case where the plaintiff is proceeding by ordinary summons pursuant to section 143 of the Judicature (Parish Court) Act ('white summons') the documents that you are most likely to receive are the plaint, particulars of claim and summons. All these documents are issued from the office for the parish court at which you are being sued. The plaint note will, among other things, indicate the cause of action, that is, the reason you are being sued, as well as the remedy or redress being sought. The particulars of claim will give full details of the action, while the summons to appear will contain, among other things, the date that you should attend court. The particulars of claim are to be attached to the summons.
After receiving the papers, the important first step is to read them carefully or have them read to you. Make sure to note the court, the date and time you are required to attend. If you received the papers after the date had passed, you should report it immediately to the court's office.
If you do not wish to defend the action, then you may elect not to attend court and a judgement in default may be entered against you. Generally, if you wish to defend the plaint, you should attend court on the date and time specified, which is on the 'return day'. On that day, you should inform the judge of your intention to defend the claim and what your defence to the action will be. If the judge is of the view that you have a proper defence to the claim, a trial date will most likely be set. This means that you do not have to have to file a defence in writing.
However, if you intend to rely on a special defence, you must give a notice of special defence. For instance, if you need to set off any debt or demand claimed recoverable from the plaintiff or to set up a defence of infancy, coverture, statute of limitations, discharge under law, bankruptcy, insolvency, justification for actions of libel or slander or any defence of 'not guilty by statute', you must file a defence in writing so that it can be served on the plaintiff.
The judge has a discretion to allow the special defence without notice first having been given to the plaintiff. However, to prevent any issue arising at trial about your right to rely on a special defence by stating it orally, it is best to put it in writing, file it at the court's office and serve it on the plaintiff before the date fixed for trial.
You can also attend court and make an admission if you have no defence to the claim. In such circumstances, a judgement on admission can be entered against you by the judge.
Should you have any problems, feel free to call the Clerk of the Court or attend at the court's office for advice.
Next week, this column we look at approach to be taken by the defendant when served with a 'pink summons' pursuant to section 146 of the Act.