Thursday, 19 November 2009

Comprehensive Guide to Small Claims Court - The Defense

Comprehensive Guide to Small Claims Court

The Defense

This Guest Post has been prepared for you by Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at law


This document is a technical guide to the small claims court. Here you will learn the main legal rules when submitting a defence to the small claims court.

In a separate document, I will guide you in writing an effective claim or defense.

Small claims court in Israel is not similar to those in the United States or Europe. In order to understand how the system works, this short guide will be divided into sub-categories to make it easier to navigate.

This court (Tribunal) is incorporated in the Magistrate’s Court (Inferior Court) and any decision, judgment or resolution can be appealed within 15 days of the final decision. The appeal takes place in a higher court (“Beit Mishpat Mechozi”). Please notice: Appealing in these kinds of cases is usually not worth it and will most likely cost you a large sum.

Anyone can be sued through the small claims court, but not everyone can sue through this court. Only private citizens can sue through the small claims court but not companies, municipalities, government ministries or any other kind of organizations.

Another issue concerns legal representation. In this court you cannot be represented (when being sued or suing) by a lawyer. You are on your own, except in cases when the plaintiff or the defendant has a specific problem, such as language. In this case, the judge may permit a relative to aid in the procedures (but you won’t know until the hearing itself starts in court).

Unfortunately, when suing a company, government or any other entity (not a private individual), you may find yourself conducting the case against a lawyer who represents the other side.

How come? If the company or the entity has in its employ a lawyer, this employee may represent the company, but you cannot do this.

The “bad news” for new immigrants is that you can present your case only in Hebrew or Arabic, but not in English or any other language. If you need an interpreter you have to ask the judge’s permission when filing your defense.

It is strongly advised to use the services of a lawyer to write an effective complaint but never to write a defense without a lawyer.

The first step:

After receiving the complaint by registered mail or delivered personally, (In both cases it doesn’t matter if you agree or not to sign or even receive the papers. By law you’ve just received them in a legal way), shock usually follows and then the “outrageous phase”. Don't worry and stay calm. You have 15 days (including weekends and holidays) to present your written defense. If you need more time you must ask the court for it before the 15 days expired.

Second Step - the answers:

Start with a simple draft for yourself. For every one of the plaintiff’s arguments, plea or charge; you must have a specific answer. NOTE: For any non-answered charges, the plaintiff won’t need to “prove” his case on that issue. You will be considered as agreeing with him on that unanswered charge.

If you don’t present your defense the plaintiff will automatically “win” the case.

Third Step - the burden of proof:

The full burden of proof is always and only on the plaintiff’s shoulders and it is not on the defendant to prove these charges or claims. Be brief, clear, chronological and consistent in your answers.

Fourth Step:

It will be better if you present your defense personally to the court’s secretariat. There must be three complete copies. The secretariat hours are from 8:30 to 12:30 except Fridays, Saturdays or holidays. Keep a stamped copy.

Fifth Step - the audience day:

Your day in court has arrived. All sides must be present in the court room on time and it generally takes a long time to be heard.

It is advised to “visit” a court room before. Go to the nearest tribunal and “learn” how it works. All cases are open to the public and generally you can find a seat (don’t go before 9:30).

Forms used for plaintiffs and defendants:

You should use the form stipulated by the court; from these forms you can learn the outline of these documents. You are not obligated to type your legal documents but remember that the Judge is a human being and if you make the case clearer, you have a better chance of being understood.

In any case, if you decide to have your complaint or defense handwritten, it must be in clear handwriting, not very crowded and as short as possible (it should be brief in any case), but remember to answer any specific issue the plaintiff used in his complaint.

Below is a link for the forms for the defense:

Tzvi Szajnbrum, Attorney at law

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