University of Tasmania
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The Tasmanian Small Claims Court : an empirical study

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posted on 2023-05-27, 07:35 authored by Clark, E. E.(Edward Eugene), 1948-
This dissertation presents the results of an empirical study of the Tasmanian Small Claims Court, established in 1985. The major purpose of the study was to evaluate the extent to which the Court is effective in achieving the purpose for which it was designed--the informal, speedy and inexpensive resolution of minor civil disputes. In conducting the evaluation a multiple evaluation methodology was adopted which sought to illuminate the diverse perceptions of various groups-- disputants, community organisations, Magistrates, and court officials--all of whom are involved with the Small Claims Court. The individual components of the methodology incorporated: (1) a detailed literature survey of Small Claims Courts within the wider context of dispute resolution; (2) a historical sketch of the establishment of a Small Claims Court in Tasmania; (3) a file survey of Small Claims Court records for the fiscal year 1989; (4) a survey of disputants who utilised the Small Claims Court over the period from 1 July 1988 through 30 June 1989; (5) interviews with disputants, court staff, administrators, magistrates and community organisations such as the Hobart Community Legal Service, Legal Aid, and Consumer Affairs; (6) personal observation of approximately thirty cases; and (7) participant observation in conducting my own case before the Small Claims Court. The empirical data present a detailed account of how Tasmanian Small Claims disputants perceive and utilise the Small Claims Court. Included in this account are the types of claims filed and by whom; the amount claimed; the role played by lawyers and insurance companies in giving advice; the perceived helpfulness of court staff; the disposition of cases; the nature of settlements; the perceived degree of formality and privacy, disputant satisfaction with the Court and their perceptions of the Court's strengths and weaknesses; problems of enforcement; and a description of the demographic characteristics of those who utilise the Small Claims procedure. The study further analyses the Court from the perspective of magistrates, court officials and community groups who all have various degrees of involvement with the Small Claims Court. The principal finding of the study is that the Tasmanian Small Claims Court is, to a large extent, achieving the goals for which it was established. More civil cases are tried in Small Claims than any other court; the vast majority of disputants are satisfied with the system and would use it again; the court staff are considered helpful; and for most litigants there is the appropriate degree of privacy and informality. The major factor influencing disputants' attitudes of fairness, impartiality and general satisfaction with the Court was whether or not disputants felt there was an adequate opportunity to present their side of the case. However, it was found that some areas of the Court's operation could be improved, the major recommendations being: 1) the need for greater public awareness about Small Claims; 2) more education regarding the primary mediation function of the Court; 3) closer working relationships between the Small Claims Court and other less formal dispute resolution agencies; 4) specialised training for Small Claims staff and Magistrates; 5) court forms and brochures written in plain English; and 6) improved physical facilities more conducive to the informal atmosphere required of small claims actions. Finally, the study highlights the need for systematic, ongoing evaluation of the Small Claims Court with the aim of making further refinements to ensure that, in pursuing the goal of providing a speedy, inexpensive and informal method of resolving minor civil disputes, the rhetoric of Small Claims Court dispute resolution matches the reality.


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Copyright 1993 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1993. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 417-450)

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