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The Tasmanian Small Claims Court : an empirical study

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Clark, E. E.(Edward Eugene),1948- (1993) The Tasmanian Small Claims Court : an empirical study. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

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.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Tasmania. Tasmanian Small Claims Court, Small claims courts
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

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).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1993. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 417-450)

Date Deposited: 25 Nov 2014 00:42
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:55
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