Being threatened with or having to bring proceedings in Court is never a pleasant prospect.
In England and Wales the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) govern what happens during Court proceedings.
All cases must be dealt with to allow the Court to deal with cases:-
- Ensuring they are proportionate to the amount of money or value involved
- The importance of the case
- The complexity of the case
- The financial position of the parties
- Ensuring the case can be dealt with as quickly and fairly as possible
Before Issusing Proceedings
The Courts, no matter how much the claim is worth, will want to see every effort made to reach an agreement through a mediation or alternative dispute resolution.
If either of those processes cannot be agreed then before proceedings are issued you should comply with a pre-action matter.
Generally it requires:-
- The parties to act reasonably
- As much documentation and information is exchanged as possible to either:-
- Settle the dispute or
- Narrow the areas of the dispute
If you fail to comply you may suffer a costs sanction.
Some areas have a specific protocol, the CPR sets out a procedure to be followed before proceedings are issued.
If you are bringing a claim, Court proceedings start with the papers being issued by the local Court Business Centre. These are made up of a claim form and particulars of claim which contain a precise summary of the basic facts in dispute.
There is an issue fee payable at this stage. The amount depends on the value of the claim and its nature.
Normally these papers are served on the other party (“Defendant”) straight away.
Receiving a claim form
The first process is to tell the court whether you are going to:-
- Accept the claim
- Accept part and defend part
- Defend all the claim
There are important time limits to comply with. If you fail to act the person bringing the claim (“Claimant”) may obtain a judgement against you.
Case Management and Allocation
Once a defence has been served all cases are actively managed by the Court to ensure the overriding objectives are achieved, they provide timescales for producing and dealing with expert evidence if required and disclosure of documents and witness statements.
Depending on the value of the claim the case will be allocated to either:-
- The small claims track
- The fast track
- The multi-track
All cases that fall within the small claims system (a value of £5,000 or less) will be referred to a free mediation service offered through the Court service. Currently both parties have to agree. It is likely that the small claims limit will increase to £10,000 or even £15,000 in the future.
Once all the directions have been complied with and nothing is outstanding (which can take some months) the case will be set down for trial, a further fee is now payable.
There is no jury (except for civil fraud and defamation cases) and the hearing will be dealt with by a single judge.
The trial is based on verbal witness and expert evidence given live. The judge will have read some of the documents in advance and if the case is fast or multi-track this would include a written skeleton argument of the case.
The judge may give an immediate decision or may reserve judgement to allow time for more complex matters to be properly thought through.
Costs are not awarded in small claims matters apart from any actual Court fees. In all other cases the costs are awarded at the judge’s discretion. As a general rule provided they have acted reasonably a winning party would normally expect the losing party to pay 60-70% of their legal costs.