To Sue or Not to Sue

Civil Litigation Procedure - Part 1Civil Litigation Procedure

The Rules of Civil Litigation

The law is fundamentally about knowing what the rules are. Every area of law will have particular rules that must be followed. In litigation it is important to be familiar with the correct rules because if you are not, then inevitably your opponent (or the court itself) will be all too happy to point out the error of your ways! Worse still, if you make a major mistake, you may be liable to pay your opponent’s legal costs or even lose a case entirely.

The procedure and rules for the civil courts are laid out in the Civil Procedure Rules 1998 (CPR). These rules were initiated by Lord Woolf’s report, Access to Justice, in the UK. The report made several hundred recommendations that attempted to deal with the concern that legal proceedings were slow and costly. Despite the fact that there have been over 40 updates to the rules in the 10 years since they were introduced, they are regarded for the most part as being a success. Some examples of key changes the CPR brought about include:

Court timetables - These imposed strict time limits so that cases did not drag on for years.

Pre-action protocols - Designed to clarify issues in disputes and encourage parties to settle without involving the courts.

Small claims courts - Encouraged people to take a DIY approach to dealing with matters under £5,000. The recovery of legal costs is very limited, and this is an attempt to prevent costs from increasing out of hand.

What to consider before bringing a claim

Looking at the changes brought about by the CPR, you could be excused for thinking that there is less litigation work for lawyers, but the reality is that litigators are busier than ever dealing with larger and more complex claims. If you have a small claim and want to join the trend of doing it yourself, you should consider the following before deciding to issue a claim at court:

  • How long ago did the incident happen? If you are claiming for a breach of contract, you have six years in which to bring a claim. This period is only three years if you have suffered a personal injury.
  • Can the party I am claiming against pay? The saying “you cannot get blood from a stone” is true as far as civil proceedings are concerned.
  • How much is it going to cost? If you are dealing with a small claim, then the amount of legal costs you might have to pay will be limited, but you should also take into account how much your time is worth and how long you will have to spend dealing with a matter.
  • Is there any other way to deal with the dispute? Since the introduction of the CPR, there has been an explosion in the number of matters that are resolved without proceedings being issued. It is always worth considering whether a matter can be settled by using mediation or arbitration or through good old-fashioned negotiation.

If you answer all these questions and you still believe that legal proceedings are the only answer, then you will need to:

  • Fill out a claim form, which sets out the particulars of your claim, and file it with your local court.
  • Send the appropriate court fee, which will depend on the amount your claim is worth.
  • Sign a ‘statement of truth’ which confirms the contents of the claim are true.

There are obviously many different types of claims, but the above steps need to be carried out in every case. In the next article in the Civil Litigation series, we will consider what you can do if you have a claim brought against you.