Solving civil disputes without resorting to litigation should be the main objective of both parties to any legal disagreement. This is sound common sense and a requirement of the civil procedure system. If all reasonable attempts at negotiating a solution have failed, there may be no alternative but to pursue a court case. Before commencing formal proceedings in any civil claim, there are particular rules of procedure that must first be followed.
The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which governs the pre-litigation process are known as pre-action protocols. The protocols are designed to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly, timely and in a cost effective way. They require both sides to cooperate, openly communicate, and exchannge information and any correspondence within set timescales. Both sides are expected to have fully explored using Alternate Dispute Resolution (such as mediation) before bringing a case to court.
There are specific protocols that apply to certain categories of case, e.g personal injury, professional negligence, housing and construction matters. In case types where a specific protocol does not apply a Pre-Action Conduct Practice Direction sets out the requirements that must be adhered to.
See the Civil Procedure Rules on case specific pre-action protocols and Pre-Action Conduct Practice Direction for more information.
Issuing a claim
The proceedings begin when the person wishing to bring a claim (known as the claimant) issues a claim form setting out a summary of the facts against the opponent (known as the defendant). The specific features of the case, must be either set out in the form itself or drafted in a separate document and served on the defendant within a designated timeline.
For further details on how to commence proceedings see Civil Procedure Rules – Part 7.
Filing a defence
The defendant has to respond to the claim within a directed timeframe and explain whether the particulars are accepted or will be either partially or fully defended. For further details on filing a defence see Civil Procedure Rules – Part 15.
Drafting court documents
All court documents must follow a particular format in respect of the proper layout of headings, title of the proceedings, paragraphs, court, and case numbers, how dates should be written etc and are provided by the Civil Procedure Rules as referred to below.
Particulars of claim
The part of the claim form which sets out the story from the claimant’s perspective, is known as the particulars of claim. It should set out who the parties are, what happened and the legal basis for the claim (such as breach of contract or negligence), the loss or damage that resulted and what is being sought. If a particular sum is being claimed it must be pleaded or in other cases it is sufficient to state that damages are to be assessed.
A defence should separately answer each of the allegations raised by the claimant in the particulars of claim from the defendant’s point of view. Each allegation must specifically be admitted, not admitted, denied and/or include an alternative version of the facts alleged. The court will assume that any allegations that are not dealt with in the defence are admitted. If defending the claim a defendant is also entitled to counter the allegations made by issuing a counterclaim of his or her own.
For further details on the requirements for a claim form, particulars of claim, defence and counterclaim see Civil Procedure Rules – Part 16 .
A witness statement is a written factual account of the evidence of a person who is being called to testify about something he or she has knowledge of, or saw or heard. The contents of a witness statement must be relevant to the facts in issue that a party is seeking to prove or disprove.
The statement should be in the witness’s own words as much as possible and written in the first person. The witness should state his or her connection to the case or relationship with the claimant or the defendant and provide a well-organised summary of all relevant events in a clear, logical and chronological order. Details of background events should only be included if really necessary to make matters easier to understand or evaluate. Any references made by a witness to other documents or photographs should be identified by an exhibit number and either have a copy attached which has been signed by the witness or included in a list of documents. Use the initials of your witness to identify the exhibit.
For further guidance on witness statements see CPR Practice Direction 32 and the Civil Procedure Rules – directions on witness statements .
Managing your case papers
As a litigant-in-person, you will be handling all your own court documents, paperwork and correspondence as the case progresses. The more prepared and organised you are, the more confident you will be in understanding the facts of your case, presenting it in an efficient way and following the procedures required of you. So stay ahead of the game by maintaining meticulous records:
Prepare a chronology
Write up a synopsis of the relevant facts of your case and set them out in chronological order. You can use a list or table format and make a reference to any relevant documents that relate to the events listed. If your case proceeds to trial, a chronology will provide the judge with a helpful summary of the claim and give an overview of the key facts and background circumstances of the dispute.
Maintain a contacts sheet
For ease of reference keep information sheets listing the full contact details of everyone connected to your case.
Keep copies of everything you have
Make a duplicate file containing copies of all your original documents. Arrange everything in chronological order and make copies of everything you send to the court or your opponent in addition to the documents you have received.
Maintain court or attendance notes
When attending any court hearing all lawyers take careful notes of the date, what was discussed or agreed, any directions given by the judge and dates by which things need to be done. Litigants-in-person should follow suit and keep careful records of all court appearances and significant meetings.
Keep a diary to record all important dates and deadlines
Include dates of court attendance, any mediation appointments, and details of deadlines for serving/filing documents and directions of the court. Make a note of all relevant conversations and record what was discussed, including any offers to settle you have either made or received. Having such a diary at hearings or mediation sessions will allow you to easily confirm the sequence of events, dates or conversations.
Keep a separate indexed file of evidence
Create an index system to list to order any evidence you intend to rely on as part of your case, such as invoices, receipts, photographs, contracts, letters and copies of emails, etc. This will help you become familiar with your evidence and help you locate it easily.