Chapter 9: The legal system: the civil courts (9.3 Starting a court cases,…
Chapter 9: The legal system: the civil courts
9.1 Civil cases
Claims made in the civil courts when an individual or a business believes that their rights have been infringed some way.
Tried at the County Court or the High Court.
9.2 Civil courts
9.2.1 County Courts
Main areas of jurisdiction are:
All contract and tort claims
All cases for the recovery of land
Disputes over equitable matters such as trusts up to a value of £350,000
Heard by either a District Judge or a Circuit Judge
9.2.2 High Court
Has three divisions;
Queen's Bench Division
Contract and tort cases where the amount claimed is over £100,000, but can hear smaller cases with an important part of law.
Normally heard by a single judge but there's a jury in cases of fraud, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment.
Deal with insolvency for companies and individuals, mortgages, copyright and patents.
Case only heard by a judge and no juries are ever used.
Hears family cases.
No jury is used only a judge.
Can hear any Civil case
9.4 The three tracks
9.4.1 Small claims
For disputes under £10,000 and personal injury claims up to £1,000.
County court - District Judge
Parties are encouraged to represent themselves and cannot claim the cost of a lawyer from the other side even if they win.
9.4.2 Fast track cases
Straightforward disputes of £10,000 - £25,000.
High and County Court - Circuit Judge
Lots of pre action protocols to stop both sides from wasting money and from wasting time.
9.4.3 Multi-track cases
For cases over £25,000 or for complex cases under this amount.
High or County Court - tried by a judge
The moment a case is allocated to a judge he is to manage it this includes:
Identifying the issues at an early stage.
Encouraging the parties to use alternative dispute resolution if this is appropriate.
Dealing with any procedural steps without the need for the parties to attend court.
Fixing timetables by which the different stages of the case must be completed/
9.7 Advantages and Disadvantages of using the courts
The process is fair in that everyone is treated alike. The judge is impartial.
The trial is conducted by a legal expert with the decision being made by a judge who is a qualified and expert lawyer.
Enforcement of the court 's decision is easier as any decision made by a court can be enforced through the courts.
There is an appeal process with specific appeal routes from decisions made in the courts.
It may be possible to get legal aid, although legal aid for civil cases has been considerably reduced.
Costs - the costs of taking someone to court are usually more than what the amount claimed is.
Delay - there are many preliminary stages to go through that add length to the case. Usually about a year for large claims before the case is heard in court.
Complicated process - there are many compulsory steps to be taken before the case is started in court
Uncertainty - there is no guarantee of winning the case, the person who loses the case may have to pay the winners legal fees.
9.3 Starting a court cases
9.3.1 Pre-action protocols
A list of things that have to be done before a court case can start and if the list isn't followed and the parties don't give the required information they may be liable for certain court costs.
9.3.2 Which court to use
Claim for £10,000 or less - personal injury claim for £1,000 or less
Small claims track - County court
Claim for £100,000 or less - personal injury claim for £50,000 or less
Claim for £100,000 - personal injury claim over £50,000
High Court or County Court - Claimant chooses
9.3.3 Issuing a claim
Need a N1 form to start a claim
Has to be filed at a court office and there will be a charge for issuing the claim. This all depends on how much the claim is for, the lowest about is £35 for a claim up to £300 and then a fee of £10,000 or so for claims for £200,000 or more.
9.3.4 Defending a claim
When receiving the claim the defendant may admit the claim and pay the amount which stops the court case meaning that the claimant has won.
In another case the defendant may dispute the claim - he must either send a N9 form back to acknowledge the service or a defence to the court within 14 days of receiving the claim.
If the defendant doesn't do wither of these things then the claimant can ask the court to make an order that the defendant pays the money and costs claimed.
9.6 Appeal routes in civil cases
9.6.1 Appeals from the County Court
If it was heard by a District Judge then the appeal is to a Circuit Judge in the same County Court.
If the case was heard by a Circuit Judge then the appeal is to a High Court Judge.
There is a possibility that there might be a second of further appeal and this will always be to the Court of Appeal. Further appeals are only allowed in exceptional cases.
9.6.2 Appeals from the High Court
From a decision in the high court the appeal usually goes to the Court of Appeal.
In some cases there may be a leap frog appeal which goes straight to the supreme court - cases of national importance.
9.5 Reform of the civil courts
Be just in the results it delivers
Be fair in the way it treats litigants
Offer appropriate procedures at a reasonable cost
Deal with cases at a reasonable speed
Be understandable to those who use it
9.5.2 Further reforms
The financial limits for small claims and fast track cases have been increased to avoid expensive trials for lower value claims.
'Deal with cases justly and at a proportionate cost'
Lord Briggs 2016
That there should be an out-of-hours private mediation service in the County Court
An online Court should be set up
9.5.1 The effect of the Woolf reforms
There is more co-operation between the parties lawyers. Delays between issuing a claim and the court trial are shorter. There has also been an improvement in how many cases are settles before going to court.
However there are still problems with the civil justice system.
Alternative dispute resolution is not used enough.
costs of cases have continued to increase - costs in fast track cases are often far greater than the amount claimed
Courts are still under resourced - in particular the IT systems are very limited.