The Magistrate's court has jurisdiction in civil matters (petty debts) for claims up to £10,000. This court can also hear child care and other proceedings relating to maintenance and afiliation (proving the parentage and legal responsibility of a father for a child). This court is typically the one used for other claims like wages arrests and arrears of maintenance.
The main difference between the Magistrate's Court and the Royal Court is that the processes and procedures are less formalised and generally speaking it is easier for a lay person to bring their own proceedings (such as a petty debt claim). On the other hand, costs of an advocate are not recoverable in the Magistrate's Court. This means if you use a lawyer to bring your claim and it is very complex or takes a long time to conclude, you may end up with a significant bill to pay which you cannot recover from the other side, even if you win your case. Even a relatively small claim can involve complex issues and take up a great deal of your time to prepare and present in court. It can also be quite a stressful experience and the outcome may not always be certain.
Mediation does not form part of the Magistrate's Court process, in other words the Magistrate cannot order that proceediongs be suspended to allow a mediation to take place. If you want to take advantage of a mediation it will be for you to propose it to the other party.
The States of Guernsey may provide limited support for legal fees via the legal aid service. Legal aid is means tested and is not free, you may be required to make a contribution to the fees and you may have to pay fees out of any damages you are awarded in court proceedings. The Advocate instructed in your case also has to certify that there are reasonable prospects of success. For a full overview of the service, please visit our contacts page.
The Royal Court deals with all civil cases where more than £10,000 is claimed. It has an unlimited jurisdiction in civil matters above this amount. The Royal Court also deals with judicial separation and divorce cases and childcare and other issues relating to those matrimonial proceedings.
You can find out more about the process of divorce and judicial separation via our contacts page. You will need an Advocate to represent at least one of you before the Royal Court, as the papers must be signed by an Advocate. You do not both need to be represented. If you disagree with anything you are being asked to do or pay it is sensible to obtain qualified legal advice to confirm your rights. The court must be satisfied that you consent to the matters you are agreeing in full.
If you do not consent to the process, the court proceedings then become more adversarial in nature. This can add considerably to the costs. For example, if divorce papers cite the other as having committed adultery, this can be difficult to prove. Denying it just to be difficult may however only lead to the divorce being sought on other grounds such as unreasonable behaviour. This entails the preparation of lengthy affidavit evidence (a sworn written statement) about issues that one party has about the other's behaviour, is almost always unpleasant and invariably ending up with the same outcome, just with extra expense. It is at this point that mediation can become helpful, usually to assist one of the parties to acknowledge and come to terms with the fact that the marriage is over and that it is in everyone's interests to resolve financial and other issues amicably.
In civil proceedings the judge can award costs against a losing party. This means if you lose your claim, you risk having to pay your own costs of your lawyer, plus the damages claimed by the other side, plus a proportion of the other side's legal costs, including the cost of reports, expert witnesses, the court fees and Advocate's fees. Civil proceedings should not therefore be contemplated unless you are reasonably sure of the prospects of success and you have the financial means to bring (or defend) a claim, and to pay for the financial consequences if you lose.