You should note that the law in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands may differ from the below. If you believe that your case may fall within one of these jurisdictions please contact the Legal Advice Line for advice.
- There are three ‘tracks’ for Civil claims. These are Small Claims Track, Fast Track and Multi Track.
- The Track your particular claim is allocated to will depend on the value and nature of the claim.
- It is ultimately up to the court to decide which Track to allocate a claim to. However, the parties to the proceedings will be asked to give a view on which Track the claim should be allocated in the ‘allocation questionnaire’.
Small Claims Track
- Financial claims with a value of less that £10,000 or Personal Injury claims with a value of less than £1,000 will usually be allocated to the Small Claims Track.
- If the claim is worth more than this but the parties and the Judge agree the claim may still be allocated to the Small Claims Track even though it is technically above the Small Claims Limit.
- The matter will usually be heard by a district judge sitting in Chambers.
- In the Small Claims Track it is not necessary to have a solicitor represent you. It is a very user friendly process and Judges are used to dealing with litigants in person (i.e. people representing themselves).
- Both parties are usually ordered to pay their own costs (although you may be able to claim the cost of issuing your claim so long as this is listed on the claim form). This means that, should you appoint a solicitor to act for you, you will have to pay their costs yourself regardless of whether you win or lose.
- A claim will usually be allocated to the Fast Track if it has a value between £10,000 and £25,000, the trial is expected to last no longer than a day and there are no more than 2 expert witnesses to give oral evidence.
- The case will usually be heard by a District or Circuit Judge in open court.
- Costs are usually paid by the losing party to the successful party. Costs must be proportionate to the amount in dispute however.
- A claim that has a value of more than £25,000, is more complex, requires more than 2 expert witnesses to give oral evidence or is expected to have a trial lasting longer than a day will usually be allocated to the Multi Track.
- The case will usually be heard by a Circuit Judge in open court.
- Costs are usually paid by the losing party to the successful party. Costs must be reasonable though given the nature and complexity of the case.
Procedure for issuing a claim
- Civil claims are usually heard in the County Court and are commenced initially by the Claimant completing a claim form. We strongly urge you to contact the legal helpline before issuing any claim in the County Court system.
- The Defendant is provided with a copy of the claim form and is given an opportunity to either defend or admit the claim or part of it. They must do one of these things, or acknowledge the claim, within 14 days. Should they acknowledge the claim they would have a further 14 days to respond fully to the claim.
- Should the Defendant not respond to the claim in the requisite time frame it is sometimes possible to apply for what’s called a ‘Judgment in Default’. This effectively means that you have won your case because no defence was entered. It is possible, though, that the Defendant could ask the court to Set aside the judgement if, for example, they genuinely did not receive the claim form or had a very good reason why they could not respond in time.
- If the Defendant does defend the claim the court will then send an Allocation Questionnaires for both parties to complete. The questionnaire asks questions in relation to the trial location, witnesses including experts and expected trial length etc. This should provide the court with enough information to decide which Track the case should be allocated to.
- Should your claim be allocated to the Fast or Multi Track you will be sent a ‘Listing Questionnaire’ to complete. This will have more detail about the trial itself although, if your claim is within either the Fast or Multi Track it is likely that you will have a solicitor acting and your solicitor will therefore complete the form for you.
- The court will then advise you of when the Trial date has been set. If your claim has been allocated to the Small Claims Track you will need to attend the hearing to represent yourself. If your claim is allocated to the Fast or Multi Track it is likely that you will have a lawyer to represent you at court although you should still attend the hearing as it is likely that you will need to give evidence.
- At the end of the trial the Judge will read out his decision or ‘Judgment’. In some cases he may reserve his Judgment and you may need to attend at a later date to hear it. This would usually only happen in more complex cases though.
- If you are successful in your claim the Judge will explain what remedy (s)he is awarding you. This could be compensation or it could take the form of another remedy such as an injunction (an order to do or not to do something) or specific performance (requiring the other party to deliver on their end of a contract). The Order is likely to specify the date by which the Defendant has to comply with the order.
Enforcing a financial order
- If an order is made for the Defendant to pay you damages / compensation this must usually be done within 28 days unless the Order states otherwise or the Defendant asks for more time to pay and this is accepted.
- If the Defendant does not pay or request further time to pay within 28 days the Claimant can seek to enforce the Judgment.
There are various ways to enforce a judgment although they will not all be appropriate in all circumstances. These are:
- Warrant of execution: This is where a County Court Bailiff attends the Defendant’s property to seize goods. There are limits to their powers though such as the items they can seize and their powers of entry. You may find, for example, that this is not an effective method of enforcement if the Defendant does not own anything of value.
- High court enforcement officers: If the County Court Judgement (CCJ) is greater than £600 a High Court Enforcement Officer can be appointed (for a fee) to enforce the debt. They have wider powers than County Court Bailiffs in relation to gaining entry to the property etc.
- Attachment of earnings: This is an instruction to the Defendant’s employer to deduct an amount of money from the Defendant’s wages in order that it can be paid to you to satisfy the Judgment Debt. This would not be effective, of course, if the Defendant is self employed.
- Third party debt order: This allows money to be paid out directly from the Defendant’s bank or other third party who holds money on behalf of the Defendant.
- Charging order: This enables a charge to be registered against an asset belonging to the Defendant, usually his / her house. If the house is then subsequently sold the proceeds of the sale would be used to satisfy the debt prior to any remaining funds being given to the Defendant. You should note however that a mortgage lender will usually have first charge which means that the debt owed to them will be paid as first priority.
Other options – Statutory Demand
- Although not technically a method of enforcement if you are owed more than £750 you can serve a Statutory Demand on the Debtor.
- Can be used against both companies and individuals.
- Serving the Statutory Demand does not require the involvement of the court.
- The Debtor has 21 days to either make the payment or come to an agreement to pay.
- If the Debtor does neither of these things within that period you can make an application to the court for a winding up petition against a company or bankruptcy petition against an individual.
- It can be an effective method of forcing a debtor to pay but only if they have sufficient assets and few creditors.
- If the debtor has large debts and insufficient assets you may not get your money back.
- If the Statutory Demand does not force the debtor to pay then the process can become expensive.