Civil litigation sounds intimidating. But unfortunately, everyone finds themselves in a legal dispute at some point in their lives. To minimise the stress, financial burden and complications, it’s important to understand how the civil litigation process works. It’s also essential to work with a lawyer that you trust to represent your best interests. In this article, we give you a basic overview of the civil litigation process in England and Wales.
What is civil litigation?
Civil litigation covers legal disputes that don’t carry criminal charges. These kinds of matters are governed by what is known as ‘Civil Law’. Matters relating to breach of contract, property disputes, divorce, and probate all fall under ‘civil litigation’.
What is the purpose of civil litigation?
Civil litigation cases work to resolve disputes and provide a remedy to the claimant. These kinds of cases can be between private individuals or businesses. Cases are heard between the County and High Court depending on the value of your claim.
A civil remedy can be in the form of financial compensation, the fulfillment of services, delivery of goods, or in an injunction. Of course, the remedy depends on the nature of the dispute.
Civil procedure rules
Civil Procedure Rules govern how civil litigation is carried out. They aim to guarantee a fair and just process for all those involved. They also work to minimize unnecessary use of a judge’s time.
The rules stipulate that you should try resolving matters outside of court using alternative dispute resolution or other. This puts court as the last resort option. They also ask that you try to minimize costs as far as possible.
Practice Direction on pre-action conduct
These rules are a framework that put certain requirements on litigating parties before you go to court. You both have a duty to share relevant documents with each other and share the cost of obtaining expert evidence.
Alternatives to litigation
It’s always worth considering all your options when launching a legal dispute. If you want to avoid lengthy court proceedings or would like to minimise conflict, it’s worth looking at alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration.
How civil litigation works
As we touched on earlier, in England and Wales, the courts are seen as a last resort only. As such, during the pre-litigation or pre-action stage, the litigating parties are expected to share relevant information and documents. Additionally, if possible, they are expected to seek to resolve matters either through settlement or alternative dispute resolution.
If the disputing parties are unable to reach an agreement, then they will issue a Claim Form at court. This document, which is ‘served to the defendant’, outlines the nature of their claim. Following this, the claimant has to produce a ‘Particulars of Claim’ within four months. This ‘Particulars of Claim’ is essentially a more detailed breakdown of the matter at hand and the desired remedy.
On receipt of the ‘Particulars of Claim’, the defendant will complete an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’. In this document, the defendant states whether they want to defend the claim. If they choose to defend the claim, they will need to also provide their defence and, where relevant, details about any Counterclaim they intend to pursue.
If the defendant serves a counterclaim, the claimant will need to respond with a defence to that counterclaim.
After the issuance of all these documents, the timeline for the trial will be decided. This is called ‘directions’. The timeline sets deadlines for disclosure, witness testimonials, expert evidence, and the trial.
At the trial, a judgement will be handed down which settles the dispute and remedy for the claim (where relevant). In England and Wales, the losing party is also expected to cover the other party’s legal costs too.
Civil litigation Lawyers
Lawyers who specialise in civil litigation are often referred to as ‘litigators’. They’ll prepare your case and represent you in court. They may also be able to advise you on alternative dispute resolution methods. Your choice of legal team is pivotal. Choosing an expert litigator is key to ensuring a successful claim and minimal stress throughout the process. Our litigators offer substantial experience supporting clients through all matter of civil cases, endeavouring always to secure a positive outcome.