I don't watch a lot of American T.V. but I do end up watching a lot of Judge Judy (and her British equivalent Judge Rinder). So this is what I had imagined would happen.
I have never been to court before except on speeding tickets in the US and once here because my hot rod's (my first car here- 1990 Ford Escort) tail lights went out and I was pulled over. I was given a ticket and had to get the fault fixed within 7 days. I had to return the ticket signed by the mechanic to the police. When I turned in the ticket as requested, they were meant to check my MOT, license and insurance. So I was summoned to court. This happened to be around the time I was meant to deploy so that was delayed so that I could go to court. The prosecutor asked me why I didn't turn in my documents if I had them, and I replied that I was never asked them. They sent me around the corner for the police to check and it was over. That was far more painless than what I went through today (as I type this).
Getting to the small claims court took us from September when we filed to February. We were given several chances to mediate. The mitigation involved a neutral party who called us and spoke to us. Then they called the other party, listened to them and see what they were prepared to offer and rang us back. We were given an hour for this and this is an attempt to keep the courts from having to deal with this. In our case, the mitigation failed.
Initially the judge addressed the situation at hand and he allowed us time to negotiate so that we could save him and us time from going over everything. We were unable to come to an agreement so we went forward with the case. The whole thing took 2.5 hours.
Before the case, both sides submit witness statements to the court and their evidence. You swear to the witness statements as being true and so testimony is not heard. This is the part that I was not prepared for, the defendant was then allowed to ask us questions based on the evidence we sent in. Then the claimant is able to do the same to the defendant. This is very unlike Judge Judy because she doesn't allow them to talk to each other.
Then the judge asks questions and makes his ruling.
The other thing that was highlighted there are cultural differences so that whilst things are not done a certain way in the United States, that does not mean that it is illegal or wrong in the United Kingdom. This is very easy to not know, I still am unsure of certain things even after being here for ten years. So if you get into this with a local tradesperson, business etc, be sure that the things you are saying are correct in the the country you are in, not the country you come from.
The locals can and do contact the base when issues with US military and their families are involved. This is the way it has always been done and will be done because they cannot go on base to locate you. The base CC, legal, housing office and British Liaison are the people that they will contact and it is not wrong, it is not how it would be done in the US, but that is how it is done here as you are ambassadors and visitors to this country. So private matters are not private matters. So do keep this in mind when you decide to take a stand.
Also if you are the defendant and you lose, it is probably best to offer to pay half of the court fees rather than trying to get out of paying all of them.
All the Best!
American to Britain