What happens when a claim is issued?
This short guide is intended to provide a basic outline of what is involved in litigation, i.e. bringing a court claim.
1. Starting Proceedings
Proceedings are usually started in your local county court. Some cases have to be issued in specific courts for example, an intellectual property claim. The party issuing the claim is known as the Claimant and they start proceedings by completing a Claim Form and Particulars of Claim. These documents summarise the claim against the Defendant and are sent to court together with the applicable fee. The amount of the issue fee is calculated by reference to the amount claimed.
The court will issue the claim and serve the documents on the Defendant. It will also send a Notice of Issue to the Claimant or the Claimant’s solicitors confirming that the claim has been issued and the date of service.
2. Defendant’s Response
From the date of service, the Defendant has 14 days to respond. The Defendant can admit the claim (either in full or in part), file a Defence, or if it files an Acknowledgment of Service, the Defendant will be allowed a further 14 days to file a Defence.
If the Defendant fails to respond to the claim a request for judgment for the full amount of the claim may be made and would bring the claim to an end, save for any necessary action to enforce the judgment.
If a Defence is filed, the court issues an Allocation Questionnaire to each party to complete with specific information. This enables the court to ensure that an appropriate amount of court time and resources are allocated to the claim. The court will allocate the claim to one of the following three tracks:
– Small Claims Track –Commercial claims of up to £10,000.
– Fast Track – Commercial claims of £10,000 to £25,000 with an estimated trial length of a day or less.
– Multi Track – Commercial claims of in excess of £25,000 or complex cases which require more than one day for trial.
A further court fee is payable by the Claimant when it files its Allocation Questionnaire. Upon receipt of the completed questionnaire, the court will issue an order setting out the next steps and the dates by which those steps have to be completed, these are known as “Directions”.
Disclosure usually takes place a few weeks after the claim has been allocated to a specific track. An aim of modern litigation is to promote openness between the parties. Disclosure refers to the requirement for the parties to exchange all documentation relevant to the dispute, including electronic documents (ie emails, spreadsheets, text messages and so on). This does not just cover documents which support your claim – you must also disclose any that you consider are unfavourable. You have an obligation to the court to retain all relevant documents and could be in contempt of court if you destroy or fail to disclose all relevant documents.
A list of all of those documents is prepared in the form required by the court which will have to be signed to confirm you have complied with your disclosure obligations. Lists will then be exchanged with your opponent and each party can request copies of the documents referred to in the other party’s list.
5. Witness Statements
Witness statements would generally be exchanged 4 – 6 weeks after disclosure has been completed.
It is important at an early stage to identify who your witnesses will be and what they will say. The importance of witness evidence should never be underestimated.
Written witness statements are exchanged simultaneously with the other party, you should never send your statements to your opponent unless you have written confirmation that they are sending their statements to you.
6. Expert Witnesses
Subject to the type of dispute, it may be necessary for an expert to be involved and it would be at this stage that reports are issued and/or exchanged, depending on whether each party has their own expert or a single joint expert has been instructed by the court.
7. Listing Questionnaires / Pre-Trial Checklists
Listing Questionnaires are usually filed approximately 2 weeks after the exchange of witness evidence or expert evidence if appropriate. The final stage before trial is for the parties to complete this standard form, which includes information for the court, for example regarding the availability of witnesses, whether the time estimate has altered and so on. This information enables the court to list the matter for trial. A further court fee is payable by the Claimant at this stage.
When the court has considered the questionnaire, it will issue an order setting the trial date, which will be generally be around 8 weeks from the date for filing the listing questionnaire.
This is the final stage of the litigation!