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AS LAW: The English Legal System. The Civil Courts. Topic 7 The courts system: civil courts. INTRODUCTION. Civil claims arise when an individual or a business believes that their rights have been infringed in some way

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Topic 7

The courts system: civil courts

INTRODUCTION

  • Civil claims arise when an individual or a business believes that their rights have been infringed in some way
  • Some of the main areas of civil law are contract law, the law of tort, family law, employment law and company law.
  • Examples;
  • A business may claim that they are owed money - contract law
  • An individual may wish to claim compensation for injuries suffered in a road traffic accident - the tort of negligence
  • The owner of a house may wish to prevent another person walking on their land and seek an injunction - the tort of trespass to land
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The courts system: civil courts

Terminology in the Civil Courts

Claimant - This is the individual or business which is bringing the claim

Defendant - This is the individual or business which is defending the claim

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The courts system: civil courts

The first step in a civil action

Taking someone to court is usually the last option in a civil dispute. 

Usually businesses and individuals try to resolve their problem through negotiation. 

For example, if you buy a faulty DVD from the shop you would take the DVD back and usually they will replace it.  In other situations you may write to the other side to complain, the majority of civil disputes are resolved at this stage and there is no need for a court hearing.  This will often lead to a compromise being reached and once again there is no need for a court hearing. 

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The courts system: civil courts

Advice from a solicitor

If the other side in a dispute will not settle the claim through negotiation then the aggrieved person must decide if they wish to take the case any further. 

The usual next stage is to consult a solicitor, they will then write to the other side on your behalf.  However when the other side will not negotiate or compromise you may need to start a civil claim. 

The first thing to check before taking someone to court is do they have the money to pay you should you win the case?  If they don't then you may be wasting your time and money!

Taking a Civil Case to Court

Going to court means expense!  There will be a court fee, solicitor's costs and of course there is no guarantee that you will win the case.

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The courts system: civil courts

  • Which Court Should You Start Your Civil Claim In?
  • There are two Courts of First Instance which hear civil claims;
    • County Court
    • High Court
  • For cases where the claim is for £15,000 or less the case must be started in the County Court.  For larger claims you can usually choose which court you start your claim in.However, the High Court and County Courts Jurisdiction Order 1991 lays down some restrictions as follows;
  • Personal Injury cases for less than £50,000 must be started in the County Court
  • Defamation actions must be started in the High Court
  • Cases can be transferred from one court to the other for the actual trial.
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The courts system: civil courts

Woolf reforms

Lord Woolf issued a report in 1996 called ‘Access to Justice’. It outlined the criticisms of the civil court system and suggested proposals for how it could be improved.

For example, the County Court and High Court had different procedures, which were complicated and expensive, and cases would suffer delays that would in turn cause more expense to the parties involved.

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The courts system: civil courts

Civil Procedure Rule 1999

  • The Woolf Report came into force in the Civil Procedure Rule 1999. The main reforms included:
  • greater promotion of alternative dispute resolution
  • pre-action protocols that encourage the exchange of
  • documents and evidence before the trial
  • judges to be more involved in case management
  • shared civil procedure rules between the County Court
  • and the High Court
  • the three-track system
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Topic 7

The courts system: civil courts

How to issue a claim 

You would need to complete a claim form, called a N1, the High Court or County Court office will give you a booklet explaining how to fill it in.

The various court forms, including the N1 can be seen on the Court Services website:

http://www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk/. 

The site also contains guidance on starting cases in the civil courts.

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The courts system: civil courts

  • Defending a claim
  • When a defendant receives the claim court from the court they may do one of the following things;
  • Admit the claim and pay the full amount
  • Dispute the claim by sending a N9 (Acknowledgment of Service) or a defence to the court within 14 days
  • Do nothing
  • If the defendant does nothing then the claimant can ask the court to make an order that the defendant pays the claim in full and the costs, this is known as an order in default.  If a case is defended then the court will allocate the case to the most suitable track.
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The three-track system

  • A judge will review each case before it goes to court and will allocate it to one of three tracks:
  • the small claims track
  • the fast track
  • the multi-track
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Small claims track

Trials are held in the Small Claims Court at the County Court.

The District Judge will hear the case with the claimant and the defendant and it is not necessary to have a solicitor present.

It can hear cases worth up to £5,000 (up to £1,000 for personal injury).

The procedure in the small claims track

People are encouraged to bring their own case so that costs are kept to a minimum.  It is possible to use a solicitor in the small claims track, however, the winner cannot claim the cost of their solicitor from the losing side.  Judges in small claim cases play an active role in the proceedings, asking questions and ensuring that both parties explain all their important points.

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Advantages of the Small Claims Track

  • The cost of bringing a case is low, especially for claims under £1,000
  • If you lose you will not have to pay for the other side's solicitor
  • People can bring the case themselves and do not need to use a solicitor
  • The procedure is quick
  • The District Judge helps the parties explain their case
  • Disadvantages of the Small Claims Track
  • For cases over £1,000 an allocation fee has to be paid
  • Legal funding for a solicitor is not available
  • Where the other side is a business they are more likely to use a solicitor, this puts an individual representing themselves at a disadvantage
  • Research shows that District Judges are not always helpful to unrepresented parties
  • Even if you win your case it doesn't mean the other side will pay you.  Only about 60% of successful claimants actually receive all the money awarded by the court.
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Fast track

A Circuit Judge hears these cases in the County Court. It includes cases worth between £5,000 and £15,000 (£1,000 to £50,000 for personal injury claims).

The Fast Track

For fast track cases the court will set down a very strict timetable for pre-trial matters.  The aim of this is to prevent either party from wasting time and adding unnecessary costs. 

Once a case is set down for a hearing the court aims to deal with the case within 30 weeks.

A fast track trial will usually be heard by a circuit judge and will follow a more formal procedure than the small claims track.  In an attempt to speed up the trial  the hearing will be limited to a maximum of one day, with usually only one expert witness being allowed.

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Multi track

Cases worth more than £15,000 (£50,000 for personal injury) will be allocated to either the High Court or the County Court.

The allocation of an appropriate court will usually depend on the amount being claimed and/or the complexity of the law involved in the case.

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The civil courts and appeals system

  • House of Lords
  • Court of Appeal
  • High Court
  • County Court
  • Magistrates court (some cases)
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House of Lords

The House of Lords is the highest appeal court in England and Wales. Cases concerning European Union law may be referred to the European Court of Justice for a decision (Article 234 referral).

The House of Lords only hears appeals with leave (permission granted by the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords) on a point of law of general public importance.

A leap-frog appeal may be made from the High Court to the House of Lords if the Court of Appeal is already bound by one of its previous decisions.

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Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal hears appeals from both the County Court and the High Court regarding any civil matter.

It deals with appeals about the facts of the case and points of law raised in the case.

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High Court

  • The High Court is a court of first instance for trials involving specific areas of law or claims over £15,000 (£50,000 for personal injury claims).
  • It has three divisions:
  • Queen’s Bench Division
  • Chancery Division
  • Family division
  • The High Court is also an appeal court, hearing appeals from the County Court, tribunals and the Magistrates’ Court (Family Court).
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County Court

  • County Courts hear the majority of civil cases.
  • They are local courts and there are approximately 300
  • around the country.
  • They deal with most divorce cases and cases that are
  • worth less than £15,000 (less than £50,000 for
  • personal injury cases).
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Magistrates’ Court

The Magistrates’ Court deals mainly with criminal cases, yet it has some civil jurisdiction over family matters.

The Magistrates’ Court can approve care orders and adoption orders for children and make provisions for the break-up of a marriage (it cannot, however, grant a divorce).

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Criticisms of the Woolf reforms

  • Small claims and High Court cases take longer.
  • Too many people may settle out of court.
  • The timetabling of cases is too strict.
  • More people are using ADR.
  • The civil procedure rules keep changing.
  • The small claims track is still too complicated for the
  • parties to represent themselves.