Part of our How to sue - Taking a claim in the civil court series

After you start a civil claim

This guide will help you understand what happens and what you have to do after you start a civil claim and before you get to the final hearing. It is part of a series of guides about sorting out a dispute in the civil court. This is sometimes also sometimes called suing someone, taking someone to court, starting legal proceedings or litigation. It covers debt and consumer cases, breach of contract, and personal injury including road traffic accidents.
Introduction

New rules for personal injury claims caused by road traffic accidents that occured on or after May 31st 2021 come into force from May 31st 2021. Please bear with us while we ensure this guide is correct for those cases. It is correct for other types of case. 

It focuses on standard practice – what happens when a claim is well-prepared and issued in good time. There are special rules dealing with situations where you don’t or can’t follow standard practice for whatever reason. For example, if you haven’t got the defendant’s address to give the court and you’ve decided to serve your claim yourself. We cover some of these briefly but you will probably need specialist advice to help you work out what to do in your particular situation.

There are separate guides on How to prepare a trial bundle and index and Witness statements and expert reports.

This guide is for you if you:

  • you have decided to sue (start a civil claim) in either England or Wales, and
  • your case involves a claim for £25,000 or less, and
  • you are representing yourself (you are a litigant in person), and
  • you are not eligible to have your case paid for by legal aid, a trade union, or insurance.

This guide is also for people supporting litigants in person, for example Support Through Court volunteers, Citizens’ Advice volunteers, housing support workers, advice workers and court staff, as well as relatives and friends.

This guide is not for you if you are involved in:

  • a criminal case,
  • a family case (such as an application for a domestic violence injunction or a divorce),
  • a housing disrepair or housing possession case including mortgage possession,
  • an injunction (including a court claim about anti-social behaviour)
  • a medical accident case,
  • a case involving defamation (that is libel or slander) or
  • a tribunal case (such as a discrimination or employment case).

After you issue your civil claim and the court serves it, and after the defendant files their defence, the court manages the next steps, including the timetable, in the process between then and the final hearing (trial) or settlement.

Top tip – Have a look at our Suing in the civil court – an overview of the process to get an overview of what a typical case might look like.

Legal language

We try to explain any legal language as we go along, but there is also a ‘What does it mean?’ section at the end.

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March 2021
Choosing your route through the civil justice system – allocation

The first thing the court does is send you a copy of the defence and decide how to manage your case up until the trial.

There are three routes through the civil justice system that the court can transfer your case to. The law calls these routes ‘tracks’. They are the small claims track, the fast track, and the multi-track. The process of deciding which track your case follows is called ‘allocation’.

The choice depends on how complex your case is and how much you are claiming. In many cases, the track your case follows affects the amount of work you have to do to get your case ready for trial, how formally you have to prepare your case and the evidence, and how much it could end up costing you if you lose.

If the defendant defends your claim, the court sends both you and the defendant a notice of proposed allocation. This tells you:

  • that a defence has been filed (the court will send you a copy),
  • which route (‘track’) through the civil justice system the court plans to send your case on - small claims track, or fast track, or multitrack, and
  • what information you have to provide using a form called a ‘directions questionnaire’, who you must send it to, and the deadline for doing this.


Small claims track

Be aware!
New rules likely to come into force from May 2021 will mean that the small claim limit for personal injury from road traffic accidents will change to £5000 from £1,000  for road traffic accidents not including pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders, and from £1,000 to £2,000 for those that do.

The small claims track is generally for claims of £10,000 or less unless your claim is for compensation for personal injury, when the entire claim has to be worth under £10,000, and the personal injury element under £1,000, or for housing disrepair when the claim is worth under £10,000 and the cost of repairs is under £1,000. It provides a simplified and more informal system of resolving disputes and generally the parties represent themselves.

An important feature of this track is that, win or lose, you will usually only pay your own legal costs. It is very unlikely that you will have to pay anyone else’s legal costs (apart from any court fees they paid and the cost of attending court, and any expert’s fees) unless the court decides you have behaved unreasonably. If you win, the other party will pay your court fees and any witness and expert’s fees. (You need permission to have an expert witness in a small claim and if you get permission their fees will be capped. This means that the court will only allow you a certain amount towards the expert’s fees. If they exceed that amount, you will be responsible for paying the difference.)

You may have heard talk about the ‘small claims court’. This is just another way of referring to the small claims track; it isn’t a real building or separate place. For more information about the small claims track in both English and Welsh see court leaflet EX306.

Forms and rules

Directions questionnaire (Small Claims Track) (N180)

Relevant rule: The small claims track 

Additional guidance 

Fast track

The fast track is for claims with a value of between £10,000 and £25,000, or personal injury where the personal injury element of the claim is worth over £1,000 but the entire claim is worth under £25,000, or housing disrepair where the cost of repairs is over £1,000 and the entire claim is worth under £25,000.

If your claim is allocated to the fast track, this is the sort of claim which is probably no longer eligible for legal aid, but where you may be able to source alternative funding (see the section on Legal costs in Before you sue – things you need to know).

For information about the fast track see court leaflet EX305.

Multi-track

The multi-track is for complex claims usually worth £25,000 or more, and is outside the scope of these guides. If your claim is allocated to the multitrack, it is advisable to get help from a solicitor, Law Centre or RCJ Advice (the Citizens’ Advice branch at the Royal Courts of Justice). See Legal advice for more information, and the ‘Find a lawyer’ section of our Help Directory.

Forms and rules

Directions questionnaire (Fast track and Multi-track) (N181)

Relevant rule: The fast track and additional guidance - Practice direction 28 - The Fast Track

How the court manages the progress of your case and tells you what to do next – directions

‘Directions’ is the court’s word for the list of instructions it gives to both you and the defendant for the practical management of your case. These instructions tell you what you each need to do to get the case ready for the final hearing. Their purpose is to make sure that:

  • the court and both parties know everything they’re entitled to know about the case before trial,
  • the parties understand each other’s case and can prepare their own case focusing on what they disagree about, and
  • the court can make arrangements including working out how much time to allow for the trial.

Directions questionnaire

The court sends both you and the defendant a form called a ‘Directions questionnaire’. This asks each of you for information to help the court decide:

  • how to deal with the case,
  • what directions to make, and
  • which track to allocate the case to.

Before completing this questionnaire, you and the defendant must contact each other to discuss how far you can agree your answers to it. In particular the court wants you to try and agree the directions you would like it to make.

Whether you can agree them or not, you must send a list of the directions you want the court to make to the court at the same time as returning the questionnaire. (You don’t need to send in this list if the court has provisionally allocated your case to the small claims track.)

When you have filled in the directions questionnaire you must send it back to the court and a copy to the other party within the time limit set by the court for return. If you don’t comply with the time limit, the court could ‘strike out’ your case - stop your case from continuing.

The court considers the answers to the directions questionnaires and decides which track is the right one for your case. The court will send you a notice of allocation. This tells you the judge’s decision.

Court leaflets EX305 and EX306 explain the time limits that apply and what happens when the court receives a directions questionnaire. 

An order for directions

The court will also send you an ‘order for directions’. This is a list of instructions telling you what tasks to do and the deadline for doing them. The court makes the order for directions based on the information you and the defendant give in your Directions questionnaires.

In particular, an order for directions will deal with:

  • Disclosure: this means providing and exchanging relevant information with the other party
  • Witness statements: exchanging witness statements with the other party
  • Expert’s reports (where they are used)

In most straightforward cases, and whether or not you managed to send the court agreed directions with your Directions questionnaire, the court will make this order without there being a hearing. So, don’t be surprised if an order for directions just turns up in the post.

If this happens to you, the first thing to do is to read the order carefully. If you aren’t certain what some bits mean, get some advice. See Legal advice or the Find a lawyer section of the Help Directory.

In more complicated cases, the court may arrange a case management conference. (You may hear lawyers or court staff talk about a ‘CMC’. What they are referring to is a case management conference.) This is a hearing where the court and the parties decide together how best to run the case. It can take place over the phone or at court.

The court can review case progress at any time and may make more directions or fix a second case management hearing as a result of any review.

The instructions in an order for directions are listed in a particular sequence for a reason. So, for example, typically they will ask you to serve your witness statements after disclosure (the process for showing what evidence you have to support your case). This way each party gets the full picture of the other’s case and sees their evidence before they prepare their witness statements. This means they can comment on what they discover in their statement. So, don’t get ahead of yourself by moving on to the next task until both you and the defendant have completed the previous one.

An example of an order for directions in a fast track case

 


IN THE GREEN COUNTY COURT                                              Claim No: abc2

BETWEEN

                                                        [Insert name]                      Claimant

                                                                and

                                                        [Insert name]                       Defendant

                                                    _____________

                                                       DIRECTIONS

                                                     _____________

Warning: you must comply with the terms imposed upon you by this order: otherwise your case is liable to be struck out or some other sanction imposed. If you cannot comply you are expected to make formal application to the court before any deadline imposed upon you expires.

The claim is allocated to the fast track. The trial window is from 2- 20 June 2021. The estimated length of trial is four hours.

Each party shall give standard disclosure to every other party by list. The latest date for delivery of the lists is 29th November 2020. The latest date for service of any request to inspect or for a copy of a document is 6th December 2020.

Each party shall serve on every other party the witness statements of all witnesses of fact on whom they intend to rely. There should be simultaneous exchange of such statements no later than 11th January 2021.

The claimant may rely on the expert evidence of Mrs Blue, in the form of the report dated 3 May 2020, already served; an updated report to be served no later than 8th February 2021. The time for service of any questions addressed to the expert shall be no later than 14 days after service of the expert’s further report. Any such questions shall be answered within 14 days of service of a question.

Pre-trial checklists shall be filed no later than 5th April 2021.

The claimant shall lodge an indexed bundle of documents contained in a ring binder and with each page clearly numbered at the court no more than seven days and not less than three days before the start of the trial.

Each party must inform the court immediately if the claim is settled, whether or not it is then possible to file a draft consent order to give effect to their agreement.

1 November 2020

District Judge

What do I do if the other party doesn’t obey the order for directions?

Let’s assume a judge has made an order for directions in your case. The defendant was supposed to serve you with their list of documents by the end of last week but they haven’t done. What can you do?

You are encouraged to sort out interim problems without going back to the court to resolve them. It’s fine to contact the other party or their solicitor (if they have one) outside of the court process. So, you should try informal pressure, for example, phoning or emailing them to remind them what they were supposed to do and by when. Ask them to do it immediately, and explain that if they don’t you will have to go back to court. Tell them when you will do this. If you phone them, follow this up with a letter. Keep a record of every attempt you make to contact the other side in your efforts to resolve any interim problem. If you end up having to go to court the court will want to know this information. 

If this doesn’t work, you may need to apply to the court (see Interim applications - how to ask a civil court to do something) for an order that unless they do the task within a certain number of days (for example, 7 days), the court will not allow them to continue with their defence and/or counter claim. You will often hear this kind of order referred to as an ‘unless’ order. This is because the basic format is always the same; unless you do x task by y date, then z will happen.

If you are the claimant and you don’t do something the order for directions tells you to do, the defendant can take the same action against you.

If you don't apply to vary the order for directions within 14 days of allocation, the court will assume that you will comply with the timetable to be ready for trial. This is why you need to have done all your preparation before you issue proceedings.

Standard directions for cases in the Small Claims Track

Standard directions for cases in the Fast Track 

What do I do if I can’t comply with part of the order for directions?

Courts are quite strict about sticking to time limits, so try and comply with deadlines and keep to the court timetable as much as possible. However, if you can’t comply, don’t ignore the problem because there is a solution. First, see if you can resolve the problem informally. Try explaining the problem to the other party and asking them to agree, for example, to an extended time limit for completing a particular task. If you can do this, there is no need to apply for an interim order and you don’t need to tell the court about the new arrangement.

Be aware!

The court fee for making most types of interim application is currently over £250 so it is better to avoid having to do this if you possibly can.

If the other party won’t agree to the change you want to make to the order for directions you can apply to the court (see Interim applications - how to ask a civil court to do something). But you must do this within the deadline – usually only 14 days from when you get the order. If you miss the deadline, you may be able to make a late application. The rule in the box below explains how to make an application for a court order. If your application is unsuccessful then you may be ordered to pay what it cost the other party to deal with your application.

There are some dates that only the court can change, for example, the trial date.

The only time there isn’t a fee for an interim application to the court is when the claimant and the defendant agree to apply to the court to postpone the trial date and the court receives their consent application at least 14 days before the date of the hearing.

However, once a court has fixed a trial date, it prefers not to change it if at all possible as this is a waste of resources. Courts encourage claimants and defendants to co-operate over any necessary change in the directions timetable, if this will enable the original trial date to go ahead. So, the court may not agree to a postponement even if both of you want it.

Forms and rules

Application notice (Form N244) 

Relevant rule: General rules about applications for court orders 

Telling the other party what evidence you have and showing it to them - disclosure and inspection
You may have already shown some or most of your documentary evidence to the other party in an effort to settle (resolve) your dispute. You may have done this more than once; before you started your claim and afterwards. But there is a stage when the court will usually expect you to put your cards on the table in an organised fashion. The order for directions will tell you what to do and by when. This process is called ‘disclosure and inspection’. ‘Disclosure’ means letting the other side know what evidence you have. ‘Inspection’ means being able to look at it. The word ‘inspection’ is left over from the days before photocopiers, when you had to go and look at (inspect) the other side’s original documents. These days inspection is carried out by looking at copies of the originals, unless there is anything suspect about the original. There is a section about this in court leaflet EX305.

You disclose a document by stating that a document (for example, a tenancy agreement) exists or has existed and allowing the other party to see it. The way you do this varies, depending on which track your case has been allocated to.

Track

Requirement

Small Claims Track →

You usually photocopy whatever documents you have to support your case and send one set to the court and another to the defendant. The defendant does the same with their documents.

Fast Track →

You must make a list of all the documents or other evidence you have that are relevant to your claim. You do this using a form called a List of documents. (There is a link to this form in the Forms and rules box below.)

‘Document’ means anything in which information of any description is recorded. This includes, for example, emails, letters, invoices, photographs, medical records.

You don’t actually allow the other party to see the documents or send them copies until the other party asks you for specific documents or groups of documents listed on the form unless your case has been allocated to the small claims track.

You might think a form called a ‘List of documents’ would ask you for one list; in fact it asks for 3 different lists. You have to decide which of your documents goes where.

The chart below helps explain what type of document you must list under each heading. Witness statements and experts’ reports are not included in the List of documents at all. The order for directions will give separate instructions about when these are shown to the other party.

When you get the other side’s List of documents you must decide what you want copies of. You may decide some items on the list are not relevant. You may already have copies of others. The other side will do the same and tell you what they want to see. If there are a very large number of documents, you may want to arrange to inspect (look at) them in person.

If they have not listed all the documents that they should have done, ask for them. If they don’t provide them, you can apply to the court for an order that they produce them within a set time limit.

Heading in form called ‘List of Documents’

 

What information you give

I have control of the documents numbered and listed here. I do not object to you inspecting them/producing copies.

List all the documents currently in your physical possession which you must allow the other party to see or take copies of, for example, your medical record and photos of your injuries.

I have control of the documents numbered and listed here, but I object to you inspecting them:

List all the documents or parts of a document currently in your physical possession which you are NOT allowing the other party to see or take copies of.

You need to explain why you object (see below).

I have had the documents numbered and listed below, but they are no longer in my control

List all the documents that were but no longer are in your physical possession.

You have to say when each document was last in your possession and where it is now.

You must also search out relevant documents to include in your own list going back to the time when the story of your case began.

You are expected to disclose any document that is relevant where it existed before you started your claim (for example, payslips, work rotas, repair records) whether they support your case or the other party’s, as well as any which don’t. So, even if you have a document which undermines your claim and which you would rather not show the other party, you still have to tell them about its existence. After that it is up to them to spot its significance and ask to see it or not.

Equally the defendant may have a document which supports what you say. If so, they must tell you that it exists – but they don’t have to tell you what’s in it. This is why you must inspect – ask to see copies of - their documents and carefully check if there is anything in them that helps or hinders your case.

If a document only came into existence for the purposes of your claim after you started your case, for example a medical report, then you don’t have to disclose it if you don’t want to. For these types of document, you only have to disclose what you want to disclose because you will be using it to support your claim.

You are breaking the law if you make a false disclosure statement, without an honest belief in its truth.

Your obligation to allow the other party to see the documents in your control continues until the court proceedings are over. So, if you find a new document at any time during the proceedings, you must let the other party know immediately. If you can, get some advice on how to do this from a solicitor, Law Centre or RCJ Advice (the Citizens’ Advice branch at the Royal Courts of Justice). See Legal advice for more information, and the ‘Find a lawyer’ section of our Help Directory.

There are documents you don’t have to allow the other side to inspect (see/have copies of). These documents are known as ‘privileged’. This means no-one, not even a court, can compel you to show them to the other party.

Privileged documents include:

  • letters and emails between you and a solicitor,
  • notes recording interviews and telephone conversations between you and a solicitor,
  • written advice from a solicitor or barrister about, for example, the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and
  • some witness statements. For example, if you are not going to use a witness’s evidence or ask them to come to the trial then you do not need to show their statement to the other party.

You still have to list the documents you object to the other party seeing in your List of documents and explain your objections. In many cases it is usually enough to write in ‘They are privileged’ in this section.

It’s often tricky to decide which documents you should or should not list and/or allow the other party to see. It’s important to get this right as it can damage your case to show the other party privileged documents unnecessarily or by accident. This is a good moment to get some legal advice to help you get through this stage successfully. See Legal advice for more information, and the ‘Find a lawyer’ section of our Help Directory.

Forms and rules

 List of documents (N265)  

Relevant rule: Disclosure and inspection of documents 

Additional guidance about disclosure and inspection

And disclosure of electronic documents

Top tips

  • When you swop your documents for the other party’s (the law calls this ‘exchanging documents’) send copies, not the originals. If you send a poor photocopy, it’s possible the other party may want to come and see the original for themselves. But they are more likely to ask you to send them a second set at your expense.
  • Only send the documents that the other party asks you for (unless your case is a small claim in which case you send copies of them all).
  • You may have to pay the other party’s photocopying charges for copying the documents you have asked to see (and they will have to pay yours) – as long as these are reasonable.
  • If you go and inspect (look at) the original documents in person, you will not have to pay any photocopying charges unless you decide there are some documents you want copies of. You will have to pay for these photocopies.
  • Bad photocopies waste everyone’s time. Make sure yours are clear, and that all the edges are in. Some photocopiers allow you to set them to produce copies slightly smaller than the originals – say 95% - which makes sure you don’t cut off important information. If you put more than one document in a copy (for example, receipts, or payslips) make sure they are in date order and all the same way up.
  • The court generally expects photocopies to be on A4 paper, and single sided.
Telling the court how your case is progressing – the pre-trial checklist

A pre-trial checklist is a form you use to tell the court how the case is progressing in the run up to trial. You may also hear it called a ‘listing questionnaire’. It’s how the court finds out, for example:

  • whether you have any preparation tasks left to do,
  • how many witnesses you have,
  • whether any experts have been able to agree their evidence,
  • whether you are going to be representing yourself, and
  • how long you think the trial is going to take.

It’s not easy estimating how long a trial is going to take. Even lawyers who are in the courts regularly get this wrong. Think about:

  • how long you think it’s going to take you to say what you need to say to the court,
  • how many witnesses are coming and the length of their statements are, and
  • whether you are asking an expert witness to give evidence.

As a rough rule of thumb, a fast track case is usually expected to last one day or less. You don’t have to file a pre-trial checklist if your claim has been allocated to the small claims track. Small claims cases are often listed for 1 or 2 hours.

There is a section about the pre-trial checklist in court leaflet EX305.

Forms and rules

You can find a Pre-trial checklist/listing questionnaire (N170).

Follow the same link for both English and Welsh versions.

Relevant rule: Pre-trial check list - rule 28.5

Chronology

You might find it helpful to prepare a short chronology for yourself, setting out a timetable of events. You will probably also find it helpful to write down exactly what is still in dispute between you – for example, does the defendant dispute that you had an accident at work at all? Or does the defendant agree you had a tripping accident on Monday 12th September but says you got your bad back from hanging curtains over the previous weekend? Or accepts that you had an accident at work which injured your back, but says it wasn’t serious and you should have been off work for 2 weeks not 2 months?

What does it mean?

Allocation - the process of deciding which track the case should follow.

Case management conference - a hearing where the court and the parties decide together how best to run the case. It can take place over the phone or at court.

Directions – instructions for how a case will be dealt with.

Directions questionnaire - a questionnaire that helps the court decide how to deal with your case and which track to allocate (transfer) your case to.

Disclosure - the process of showing the relevant evidence to the other party.

Expert evidence - this is evidence of an expert’s opinion, of what they think or believe about something.

Indexed bundle of documents - a pack combining both parties’ documents with a list at the front showing what is in it.

List of documents – the form you use to list the documents and any other evidence you have that is relevant to your case.

Notice of discontinuance – the form you use to tell the court that you want to stop (discontinue) your claim.

Notice of Issue – this tells you that your claim has started and the date it began. It also tells you the case number, the date of service, the method of service and the defendant’s deadline for responding.

Notice of proposed allocation – a notice is a bit like a letter. This notice tells you which track the judge thinks is suitable for your case. This could be the small claims track, the fast track or the multi-track. It also tells you to complete a directions questionnaire.

Particulars of Claim – a concise written statement of the facts and law on which your claim is based and what you want from the defendant.

Pre-trial checklist - a form you use to tell the court how your case is progressing in the run up to the trial.

Trial window – the particular period of time during which your case is likely to be heard. The court may ask you for information about when you can and can’t attend during that period.

Request to inspect - this refers to your right to ask to see and check the original documents supporting the other party’s case.

Settled - you reach an agreement with the other party which concludes the case.

Simultaneous exchange - this is when the parties to a case exchange their witness statements at the same time on the same day.

Strike out – to stop an application, claim or defence from continuing with the result that you are unsuccessful.

Unless order – this is a court order that says that unless you do X, Y will happen. Often, if you don’t comply with an ‘unless order’ your claim or defence may be struck out.

Witness statement - a document in which someone explains what they saw, did or heard.

About this guide

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales.

The law is complicated. We have simplified things in this guide. Please don’t rely on this guide as a complete statement of the law. We recommend you try and get advice from the sources we have suggested.

Acknowledgements

This guide was written and produced by the Advicenow team at Law for Life, with funding from the Litigant in Person Support Strategy.

Advicenow would like to thank all those who provided advice and feedback on this guide, particularly Judith Emmet, Clare Shirtcliff, and Ashley Fredericks from Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre.

Can you help us?

We are always trying to improve our service. If you have any comments on what you like or don’t like about this guide please visit our Feedback page.

March 2021
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