What is litigation?


Litigation, in broad terms, means the taking of legal action in court to determine a party's rights. There are several High Court trial centres and over 200 County Courts which can determine a wide range of litigation claims. Certain claims can only be determined by specialised courts. For example, some employment related claims may only be determined by an employment tribunal.

The first steps

There are a number of different areas of the law which must be considered during the litigation process. The process of litigation is not simply attending court. It starts from:

  • Understanding the needs of a client
  • Advising on all the steps available
  • Continues to the entire court process

UK litigation is particularly complex given the nature of the courts, and the different processes and rules of those different courts. Although the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) apply to most civil litigation cases, there are different rules for criminal cases, and certain proceedings such as those concerning insolvency and adoption are not governed by the CPR.

UK litigation firms must analyse the case as a whole, and give you advice on what your prospects of success will be if the case comes before a court. For this reason, litigation lawyers must have extremely strong analytical skills, and must be aware of case law on the many different areas of the law. One case will often include legal points from many areas of law, and unlike certain fields, lawyers involved in UK litigation must have a good understanding of a broad range of legal topics.

If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland your litigation will move through similar stages to courts in England and Wales. There are, however, differences in the court systems within Scotland and Northern Ireland. You should consult a solicitor about your court litigation before proceeding to ensure you are sure you have a strong case that is likely to result in a positive verdict for you.

The next steps

Most litigation claims must be commenced within a certain period of time.  For example:

  • Most contractual claims will need to be commenced within six years of the breach of contract
  • Most personal injury claims need to be commenced with three years of the date of the injury

It is recommended in litigation to contact the other party with full details of any claim which is to be made against him in advance of proceedings so that he has the opportunity to respond.

Legal proceedings can be formally commenced by issuing a claim form at:

  • The High Court
  • The County Court

Claims that are worth less than £10,000 are generally allocated to Small Claims Courts. Having been served the claim, the defendant has 14 days to file a defence.

The final steps

Once proceedings begin, the parties will issue an allocation questionnaire (to help the court manage the claim). The court will set a timetable for the claim and the parties will undertake what is known in litigation as "disclosure exercise" whereby they reveal all documents of relevance to the claim. 

Witness statements of those involved in the claim are exchanged and if necessary, expert evidence will be obtained.  Provided an early resolution does not take place, the claim will be decided by the Court and the rule in litigation is that the losing party pays the winner's legal costs.

The success of your court litigation will largely depend on the evidence you can bring to your case. The judge that will preside over your case is looking for clear and unambiguous details about the case you are bringing. The judge will also want to see if you have attempted to resolve your dispute by all other means, such as mediation.

For more information on the court process, see our guidance page on the litigation process.

If you are involved in a litigation-related issue, Caven can put you in touch with a specialist litigation solicitor for the area of law your case concerns. Please call us on 08001 221 2299 or complete the web-form above.

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