Civil Procedure in England and Wales

Civil actions can be raised in either the County Court or the High Court. The High Court will only deal with matters where the sum sued for exceeds £25,000 and generally where there is an element of complexity.

The High Court is split into three divisions. Most commercial and contractual work is undertaken in the Queen’s Bench Division, which has a number of specialist subdivisions including the Commercial Court and the Admiralty Court. The Queen’s Bench Division also deals with employment and personal injury claims. The Chancery Division deals principally with company matters, trusts, wills, some land related matters and intellectual property, and includes the Companies Court, Patents Court and Bankruptcy Registry. The Family Division is responsible for divorces and decisions on the custody of children.

A Claim Form is issued and once sealed; service is ordinarily effected by the court. Thereafter the defendant has 14 days in which to decide between four main options s/he will do:

  • Send an Admission Form to the Court admitting all or part of the claim; in that Form the Defendant may also ask for further time to make payment.
  • Send an Acknowledgment of Service Form to the Court, giving notice that he intends to defend all or part of the claim.
  • Send an Acknowledgment of Service Form to the Court, indicating that he intends to contest the Court’s jurisdiction.
  • Do nothing, in which case the Claimant is entitled to enter default judgment against him.

NB: Filing an Acknowledgement of Service form also has the effect of extending the time for service of a Defence by a further 14 days.

Should an action be defended, the court will normally transfer the case automatically to the defendant’s nearest county court if:

  • The claim is for a fixed amount and
  • The defendant is an individual, not a company.

In other cases, either party can ask for the case to be transferred to another county court. If there are reasons (e.g. attendance by someone with a disability) for the hearing to take place at a particular court this should be indicates in the Directions Questionnaire and the judge will take this into account

The judge decides which track a claim should be allocated to. Once the court has received both Directions Questionnaires a judge will look at:

  • The basis of the claim
  • The amount claimed and the type of claim.
  • How simple it will be to prepare the court hearing.
  • How long the hearing is likely to last.

The court will then issue a Notice of Allocation to both parties.

County Court Case Management

The Small Claims Track:
This is the normal track for claims with a financial value of not more than £5,000. The matter is heard by a District Judge in the County Court and the procedure is intended to be fast, cheap and relatively informal.

The Fast Track:
This is the normal track for claims not falling within the small track, but with a financial value of not more than £15,000. In addition, the trial of the matter must be expected to last not more than one day. Directions will be given by the Court for the conduct of the matter up until trial, including a timetable for the progress of the claim. The costs which may be recovered by the successful party are limited.

The Multi Track:
This is for claims of greater value (over £15,000) or complexity. It is on this track that there will probably be the most interaction between the parties and the Court on the progress of the case. In particular, the Court may at an early stage hold a case management conference to set out a timetable for the conduct of the matter up until trial.

Judgement / Decree

Where a final order is made in any case, the court will issue a Judgement (equal to a Decree in Scotland). This is a formal copy of the order made by the court which will be issued to the successful party and which may be used to enforce the order. It may, for example, be an order to pay a sum of money with interest due, an order prohibiting a certain course of conduct, or indeed an order relating to the care of children. The enforcement of the court order may involve instructing Bailiffs or a sheriff's officer.

A Judgement can be enforced in Scotland, but must be transferred.

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