How to take a claim in the civil court

Appealing against a county court decision

This guide will help you to understand how to appeal against a decision made by a judge in a county court. It is part of a series of guides about sorting out a dispute using the civil court.
Introduction

Top tip

Have a look at An overview of the process of taking a claim in the civil court to get an overview of what a typical case might look like and How a claim is dealt with – at a glance.

If you object to the Judge’s decision and want to try and get it changed you may be able to ‘appeal’ it. Appealing a decision is asking for a decision to be looked at again because you believe a serious legal mistake has been made. An appeal will be dealt with by a different judge from the one who made the original decision.

This guide is for you if you:

  • are thinking about suing (starting 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 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 court claims 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).

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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July 2021
Deciding whether to appeal

Appealing a county court decision is a two-stage process. First you have to get permission to appeal. Second, if you are successful in getting permission, you have to manage the appeal process.

There are special rules about appeals. You can find them in the box below.

Appealing against the Judge’s decision in a case is a big step

  • If you have lost your case, you will only be able to appeal if there are legal grounds – that is, if the judge made a serious mistake, or there was something seriously wrong with how the procedure was followed. You can’t appeal just because you thought the result was not fair.
  • You will usually need the judge’s permission to appeal.  
  • You only have a very limited time to decide whether to appeal, usually 21 days. 
  • If you lose your appeal, you will almost certainly be ordered to pay the other side’s legal costs.
  • Appealing is complicated. It is sensible to get legal advice quickly before you start. See How to get free legal advice about your civil case for more help.

Other things to consider when deciding whether to appeal

  • Just because you believe that the Judge got it wrong is not sufficient reason to appeal.
  • You may disagree with the Judge’s decision, but on its own that is not enough to be a ground of appeal.
  • If all you are saying is ‘I disagree with the decision’ then your appeal will not succeed.
  • If the Judge who made the decision made minor errors, this is unlikely to be enough for you to succeed in an appeal. 
  • The fact you think the Judge believed the ‘wrong’ person and should have preferred your version of events is not a ground of appeal.
  • Evidence you forgot to produce at the trial or which you did not think would be necessary is not ‘fresh’ or ‘new’ evidence. It is too late to use it now.
  • ‘New’ evidence could be evidence of fraud committed since the trial, for example, where one party’s representative overhears the other party boasting about how they had lied to the court and won.
  • Perjury (swearing in a court that something is true when it is not) is a criminal offence.

Can you appeal?

There is no automatic right of appeal. In most cases, you need permission to appeal.

Small claims

If you were the claimant in a small claim and:

  • you weren’t in court, and
  • you didn’t notify the court you weren’t going to attend, and
  • the court made its decision in your absence,

then you can apply to set aside judgment instead of appealing.

However, if you had told the court you weren’t going to the trial and the court decides in your absence and you don’t agree, then you either have to accept the decision or appeal.

Relevant rules and court leaflets

Relevant rule: Part 52 - Appeal

Relevant practice direction: Practice Direction 52B - appeals in the County Court and high court

You may also find the court leaflet  Appeal a court decision: civil and family appeals (EX340) helpful

We know the Civil Procedure Rules will soon be moved from the Justice website to GOV.UK, but not when or exactly where. Search the titles underlined using a search engine.

Try to comply with the court rules as much as you can. The court will be aware that you are a litigant in person but aren’t likely to allow you much flexibility.

How to get permission to appeal

You can ask for permission at the hearing - after the judge has given judgment. The judge will only give permission if they think the appeal has a realistic chance of being successful.

If you haven’t got permission to appeal, either because you didn’t ask for it at the hearing or because it was refused, you will need to apply for it separately afterwards. You do this by completing and filing a form called the ‘Appellant’s notice’ (see below). The appeal court will only give permission to go ahead with an appeal if they think it has a realistic chance of success.

The appeal court makes its decision based on the papers you have sent, either giving permission to appeal or refusing it. If the court refuses permission, you have 7 days from the refusal to ask for an oral hearing (when you go to court to speak). You won’t be able to ask for an oral hearing if the appeal court has decided there is no merit at all in your appeal.

Grounds of appeal 

Your grounds of appeal must show that the decision was wrong or unjust because of a serious procedural error (mistake) or an error in applying or interpreting the law. You must attach your grounds of appeal to the Appellant’s notice before you can start (issue) your appeal at court.

Filling in the Appellants notice

You have to complete and file a document called the ‘Appellant’s notice’.

If you want to appeal against a decision in a small claim, you use form N164.

If you want to appeal against a decision which is not a small claim you use form N161.

You will also find guidance notes and Welsh language versions of both the form and the notes by following the above links.

Help with court fees

In some circumstances you may not have to pay a fee at all or only a reduced fee if you are on a low income or certain benefits, and have no or little savings. For example, you will not pay anything if you can prove that you get Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, State Pension Credit guarantee credit, Universal Credit with gross annual earnings of less than £6,000 or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, as long as your savings or other capital don’t exceed certain limits. The savings limit will depend on whether you (or a partner) are under or over 61, and on whether the fee is over or under £1,000. You should make any application for help paying a court fee promptly. 

You may also hear help with court fees called ‘fee remission’.

You can ask for help paying court fees by completing Form EX160 (Welsh/English version). There are notes at the back of the form to help you complete it. You might  also find Getting help to pay a court fee in a civil or family case helpful.

When you start an appeal, you will be called ‘the appellant’ not ‘the claimant’, and the defendant will be called ‘the respondent’.

You have to pay a fee to apply for permission to appeal unless you are entitled to help with court fees. The current fees are over £100 and over £200 depending on where you have to file your appellant’s notice. You can find information about appeal fees in the court leaflet Fees in the Civil and Family Courts - main fees (EX50)

What to send with the Appellant’s notice

You will need to send:

  • three copies of the appellant’s notice for the appeal court, and 
  • three copies of the grounds for appeal, and
  • one additional copy of the appellant’s notice and grounds of appeal for each of the respondents, and 
  • one copy of the sealed order (stamped by the court to show that it is authentic) being appealed, and
  • a copy of any order giving or refusing permission to appeal together with a copy of the judge’s reasons for allowing or refusing permission to appeal.

You can find the list at Practice Direction 52B - appeals in the County Court and high court: Section IV - Initiating an appeal

Time limits

The time limit for an appeal is very short whatever the type of case and you need to act quickly. You can find the different time limits explained in the guidance notes that describe how to complete the Appellant’s notice.

The time limit is either:

  • the date set by the judge whose decision you are appealing against, or
  • if the judge did not set a date, then you have 21 days from the date of the decision that you want to appeal against to send or take your request for permission to appeal to the court.

Don’t wait for the actual court order to arrive otherwise you will miss the deadline.

If you miss the deadline, you can still request permission to appeal but you have to ask the court for an extension. The court is likely to say no unless you have a very good reason. There is another court fee to pay, so the best thing is to make sure you get your paperwork in on time.

Serving an appeal

If you are the appellant, you should send a copy of your Appellant’s notice and any supporting documents to the respondent within 7 days from the date you started (issued) your appeal. The respondent does not have to respond, unless you already have permission to appeal.

You then need to complete and send or take to the court a certificate of service as soon as possible confirming when and how you served the appeal.

Forms and rules

Certificate of service (including Welsh language and large print versions) at

Which court to send your appeal to
This depends on the level of judge who made the decision. A county court has two levels of judge - district judges and circuit judges. A circuit judge is more senior than a district judge. Generally, though not always, small claims and some fast track claims will be dealt with by a district judge or deputy district judge. Higher value and more complicated cases including some fast track claims will usually be dealt with by a circuit judge.

If your case was decided by a district judge, or deputy district judge, you need to appeal to the circuit judge.

If your case was decided by a circuit judge, you need to appeal to the High Court.

The judgment will say whether it was made by a circuit judge or district judge. (If you see the letters HHJ in front of the judge’s name, that means they were a circuit judge. If you see the letters DJ or DDJ it means they were a district judge or deputy district judge.)

More information to help you start your appeal in the right court.

Transcripts

  • Small claims - You don’t need to get a transcript of the judgment or provide one to the court or the respondent in a small claim appeal.
  • Fast track claims - The Appellant must apply for an approved transcript of the judgment where it has been officially recorded as soon as possible or within 7 days of filing the appellant's notice. You don’t need a transcript of the whole hearing, just the judgment, unless you need a transcript of other parts of the recording because they are relevant to establishing the merits of your appeal

If the judgment wasn’t recorded then the Appellant must get a copy of the written judgment. If that isn’t available either, then the parties to the appeal must agree a note of the judgment and send it to the judge who decided the case for their approval. See further information about how to apply for a transcript, how much it costs and when you may be able to get a free transcript.

Permission to appeal has been refused – what happens next?
If your paper application for permission to appeal has been considered and refused, you can ask the judge to reconsider at an oral hearing. This is provided the judge has not decided your claim cannot possibly succeed.  You only have 7 days after receiving the refusal to apply for an oral hearing, and you also have to send a copy of your request to the respondent.

Permission has been given - what happens next?
The court will write to you (by sending you a notice) to tell you when your appeal will be heard, and what you need to do to prepare for the appeal hearing.

Responding to an appeal

Forms and guidance for the respondent

Respondent’s notice and guidance about how to complete it (including Welsh language versions).

If you have received an Appellant’s notice and are named as the respondent, you will need to get advice. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may have to pay for legal advice. Be aware that services offering free advice are aimed at helping people on low incomes - they will not usually help the landlord or business in a case. If you are on a low income, see How to get free legal advice about your civil case

You may need to complete and send or take to the court a Respondent’s notice within a tight time limit. So, act quickly.

Appeal costs

Appeal to the Court of Appeal

You will only be able to appeal from an unsuccessful first stage appeal on points of serious public interest. This is rare and outside the scope of this guide.

Usually there is no risk of you having to pay anyone any money when you ask for permission to appeal (except for the court fee and the expense of getting a transcript and photocopying documents for your bundle), unless the respondent gets involved in the process in some way. The court may, for example, ask the respondent to come to a hearing or put their response to the appeal in writing. In these circumstances the respondent will normally get their costs paid by you if you don’t get permission to appeal.

Sometimes people who get permission to appeal wish they had never got it if they then lose their appeal and end up having to pay the other party’s legal costs. Telling the court that you are a litigant in person or that you have no money will make no difference. An order that you pay the winner’s legal costs can still be made against you.

What does it mean?

Appeal – the process of objecting to a Judge’s decision in order to get it changed.

Appellant – the name given to the person who wants to appeal. This could be either the dissatisfied claimant or defendant.

Appellant’s notice – the form you use to start an appeal.

Circuit judge – are more senior judges than District judges. They deal with cases in both the Crown Court and the County Court. If you see the letters HHJ in front of the judge’s name (on a judgement for example), they are a circuit judge. 

District judge - full-time judges who deal with the majority of cases in the County Courts. If you see the letters DJ in front of the judge’s name (on a judgement for example), they are a district judge. DDJ means they are a deputy district judge.

File - sending or taking documents to court as part of a case.

Grounds of appeal – the reason(s) and concise argument(s) that support your appeal.

Issue -  start court proceedings. If someone ‘issues’ an application it just means they are starting a new case at court or asking for something new in a case that has already started.

Respondent – the name given to the person who is defending the appeal. This could be either the claimant or the defendant from original case.

Transcript – the official version, typed from a recording, of what was said at the trial.

About this guide

If you would like this guide in another format please email guides@lawforlife.org.uk

Disclaimer

The information in this guide applies to England and Wales only. The law may be different if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland. 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.

The cases we refer to are not always real but show a typical situation. We have included them to help you think about how to deal with your own situation.

Acknowledgement

This guide was produced by Law for Life's Advicenow project. Thanks to everybody who commented on this guide and particularly to Ashley Fredericks, from Nottingham Law School Legal Advice Centre, who peer reviewed it.

The production of this guide was supported by the Ministry of Justice and The Access to Justice Foundation through the Legal Support for Litigants in Person grant.

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