County Courts High Court of Justice The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) The Supreme Court
In England, simple civil actions are normally heard in the County Courts – all small claims cases and fast track cases The County Court hears first instance civil cases, such as contract disputes, compensation claims, consumer complaints and bankruptcy cases
Formerly called plaintiffs They seek legal remedy for some harm or injury they have suffered Most claims are initiated by the use of a claim form, which functions as a summons Once a claim has been issued, a copy is served on the defendant who must respond within 14 days
Juries are now rare in civil actions, so the judge usually considers both law and fact There are circuit judges and recorders who sit in the County Courts, usually without a jury A recorder is a part-time judge with ten years standing as a barrister or solicitor Recorders generally hear less complex or serious cases than circuit judges
More complex cases are heard in the High Court of Justice It is divided in three divisions: Family, Chancery and Queen’s Bench The Court has both original and appelate jurisdiction
Family Division – for family-related disputes, wardship cases and cases relating to children under the Children Act 1989 Chancery Division – mortgages, trusts, copyrights and patents Queen’s Bench Division – contract and tort claims
From the High Court cases may go on appeal to the civil division of the Court of Appeal, which can reverse or uphold a decision of the lower courts Its decision binds all the lower civil courts
The final appeal hearings and judgments of the House of Lords took place on 30 July 2009. The judicial role of the House of Lords as the highest appeal court in the UK has ended. From 1 October 2009, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom assumes jurisdiction on points of law for all civil law cases in the UK and all criminal cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
All cases concerning goods, property, debt repayment and breach of contract are subject to Civil Procedure Rules. The Rules came into force in 1999 in England and Wales as a result of the Woolf Review of the civil justice system and changed the civil process in the County Court and the High Court
The CPR has introduced three "tracks" for bringing cases to trial. Depending upon the amount involved, cases will be allocated to the appropriate track when the defence is received: 1. Small claims track 2. Fast track cases 3. Multi-track cases
Small claims track (most cases under £5,000) - replaces arbitration, similar procedurally; costs remain unrecoverable. Issued only in the County Court and for claims less than £ 5,000. There is an additional fee for allocation to the track upon receipt of defence.
Cases are heard by a District Judge Cases are dealt with in a relatively informal way The winning party cannot recover the costs of using a lawyer from the losing side – the use of lawyers is discouraged
Fast Track for claims of £ 5,000 to 15,000 where the trial will not last longer than one day. Issued only in the County Court. Lord Woolf: “…a strictly limited procedure designed to take cases to trial in a short but reasonable time-scale at a fixed cost”
Multi-Track for claims over £ 15,000, issued in the High Court and the County Court. Also for claims where the Small Claims Track of Fast Track do not apply.
It is generally felt that the reforms are a qualified success The adversarial approach has been replaced by more co-operation between parties, and the use of ADR has increased The real issues of cases are being defined more quickly – more cases settling and earlier settlements
An informal approach between the parties themselves or their lawyers Completely private The quickest and cheapest method of resolving a dispute
Mediation is a process in which a neutral person (the mediator) helps the parties reach a compromise solution to their dispute; the parties work out a solution themselves In conciliation the mediator (or conciliator) has power to suggest grounds for compromise and the possible basis for settlement
The voluntary submission by the parties of their dispute to the judgment of an arbitrator who is neutral The agreement to go to arbitration can be made before a dispute arises or after the dispute has arisen The decision by the arbitrator is called an award. It is binding on the parties and can be enforced through the courts if necessary