- Civil procedure in England and Wales
The civil courts of England and Wales adopted an overwhelmingly unified body of rules as a result of the Woolf Reforms on 26 April 1999. These are collectively known as the Civil Procedure Rules and in all but some very confined areas replaced the Rules of the Supreme Court (applicable to the High Court of Justice) and the County Court Rules.
THE COURT STRUCTURE
The Three Tracks All cases that are defended are allocated to one of three tracks
Small claims track:- This is for most cases under £5,000. NOTE:that the normal limit for housing disrepair cases and personal.
Fast Track Cases:- These are claims for between £5,000 and £15,000, although cases of this amount involving a complex point of law can be allocated to the multi- track.
Multi-Track Cases:-These are claims over £15,000,or complex.
THE CIVIL COURTS These are two civil courts that hear cases at first instance; i.e. fresh cases and not appeals. These are the county court and high court. The county court hears all small claim cases and fast track cases. County courts which are designated as civil trial centres,can also deal with multi-track cases. However, unless the parties agree,cases above £50,000 in value are not usually tried in the county court.
The High court has three divisions
Queens bench division-for contract and tort claims
Chancery Division-for disputes involves equity matters such as mortgages,trusts,copyrights and patents.
Family Division-for family related disputes and cases relating to children.
PROCEDURE IN OUTLINE The civil procedure rules 1999 set out the rules for each stage of a case. The rules aim see to it that,when people sue or are sued they obtain justice. Cases are dealt with depending on their monetary value.
Parties are encouraged to disclose the facts of their case prior to starting any court case. A pre-action protocol must be followed. All claims less than £15,000 must be started in the county court. Claims for more than this amount can be started in either the High court or the County Court, except personal injury claims for less than £50,000,which must be started in the county court.
Most type of claims are started by issuing a Part 7 claim form. The claimant states particulars on the claim form, or attach to it , or served separately within 14 days of the claim form being served.
There must also be a Statement of truth as to the facts in the particulars of the claim. The claim form and the particulars of the claim must be served on the defendant. This may be done by the court or the claimant and can be served personally, by post, by fax, by e-mail or other electronic means.
The defendant had 14 days in which to respond. a defendant may:-
Pay the Claim Admit or Partly admit File an acknowledgement of service (but then must file a defence within another 14 days) File a Defence
A defence that just denies the claim is not sufficient, it should be more specific. The defendant must after being served and not admitting the claim, he must file a defence which has substance. It is not enough to simply deny the claim. A defence that simply denies will be struck out by the courts. At any point before or after the commencement of proceedings, the defendant or the claimant must make a part 36 offer (to settle) and payment.
ALLOCATION OF CASES When a defence is filed at court,an allocation questionnaire is sent to all parties. This helps the Judge decide which track the case should be allocated to. An allocation fee has to be paid at this stage, but not for claims under £1,000. If a party is dissatisfied with the allocation decision an application can be made to the court for the claim to be re-allocated.
Small claims procedure
Cases are heard by a District Judge' who will normally use an interventonist approach. This is an approach that allows the court to try and intervene in helping the parties to agree with one another in sorting out the case. Cases are dealt with in a relatively informal way, although they are now heard in open court,prior to the 1999 reforms small claim cases were heard in private. The use of lawyers is discouraged because the winning party cannot recover the costs of using a lawyer from the losing side. There may be a paper adjudication if the judge thinks it is appropriate and the parties agree. This is an approach by the court where the parties bring in the documents they wish to use and the court decides the case using the documents. They do not need evidence in court.
Fast track cases
Before a fast track case,there must be a process of directions. The idea is to simplify the case for the court. Directions are a summary of the case. There is a maximum delay of 30 weeks between directions and trial. Normally only one expert witness is allowed and, if the parties cannot agree on an expert, the court has the power to appoint one. The expert's evidence will be given in writing. There are fixed costs for the advocate at the trial.
Multi track cases
There is no standard procedure for pre-trial directions unlike fast track,the judge has flexibility to use a number of different approaches,including case management conferences and pre-trial reviews. The aim is to identify the issues as early as possible and where appropriate,try specific issues prior to the main trial. This is aimed at encouraging a settlement. The number of expert witnesses is controlled by the court as the courts permission is needed for any party to use an expert to give evidence (oral or written). All time limits are strictly enforced. An approximate date for the trial (a trial window) is given to the parties and the court is very unlikely to agree to any adjournment.
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