start court case legal proceedings litigation advice

How do I Start Court Proceedings?

Do you want to take someone to court? Do you want step-by-step advice on how to issue a claim? Litigation is subject to strict guidelines set out in the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) and precise limitation dates. Contact our lawyers for a second opinion or instruct us to issue your claim for you.

Our lawyers specialise in litigation. We will guide you through any stage in your litigation process. Whether you are a litigant in person seeking legal advice or you have instructed solicitors and are seeking a second opinion on strategy.

The information published on this website is: (a) for reference purposes only; (b) does not create a contractual relationship; (c) does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such; and (d) is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Specific legal advice about your circumstances should always be sought.

How do I start court proceedings?

You start court proceedings by issuing a claim form. At the same time, you can set out more details of your claim in Particulars of Claim which can be filed and served at the same time or later (this is subject to strict deadlines). Once this has happened, the case has started and the Defendant will be under strict deadlines to file a Defence.

Are the pre-action protocols important?

Yes. Before proceedings are commenced the court expects the parties to engage in pre-action correspondence and follow the relevant pre-action protocol for the particular type of claim. Usually, this involves setting out your case in a letter before claim.

What does pre-action mean?

Pre-action rules govern the conduct of the parties and what steps should be taken before a claim is issued. Non-compliance with litigation pre-action protocols may mean a party is later punished by the court in terms of costs.

Before proceedings are commenced, the parties are required to act reasonably in exchanging information and documents relevant to the dispute. The aim is to avoid the need for legal proceedings by encouraging resolution of the dispute by other means.

What are the aims of the pre-action protocols?

The objectives of pre-action protocols are to:

  • Encourage the exchange of early and full information about a prospective claim.
  • Enable parties to avoid litigation by agreeing a settlement of a claim before the commencement of proceedings.
  • Support the efficient management of proceedings where litigation cannot be avoided.

What is the purpose of the pre-action protocol?

The parties are expected to make appropriate attempts to resolve the dispute, whether by alternative dispute resolution (ADR), negotiations, offers of settlement or a combination of these methods.

Settlement is usually a sensible option for all parties to consider at the pre-action stage, in order to save the costs of litigation and to eliminate risk. If proceedings are commenced, then the CPR and the courts encourage the parties to consider settlement options during the course of the litigation.

What if there isn’t a relevant pre-action protocol to follow?

Where there is no relevant pre-action protocol, the parties should exchange correspondence and information to comply with the objectives in paragraph 3, bearing in mind that compliance should be proportionate. The steps will usually include—

(a) the claimant writing to the defendant with concise details of the claim. The letter should include the basis on which the claim is made, a summary of the facts, what the claimant wants from the defendant, and if money, how the amount is calculated;

(b) the defendant responding within a reasonable time – 14 days in a straight forward case and no more than 3 months in a very complex one. The reply should include confirmation as to whether the claim is accepted and, if it is not accepted, the reasons why, together with an explanation as to which facts and parts of the claim are disputed and whether the defendant is making a counterclaim as well as providing details of any counterclaim; and

(c) the parties disclosing key documents relevant to the issues in dispute.

Should I write a letter before claim?

A letter before claim puts a potential defendant on notice that proceedings will be issued against them. If a dispute proceeds to litigation, the court will expect the parties to have complied with a relevant pre-action protocol or this Practice Direction. The court will take into account non-compliance when giving directions for the management of proceedings (see CPR 3.1(4) to (6)) and when making orders for costs (see CPR 44.3(5)(a)).

What do I write in a letter before claim?

Before court proceedings are commenced, a claimant should consider sending a Letter of Claim to the defendant.

Whilst each claim will require different information in the Letter of Claim as a general guide it should contain the following information:

  • your name and address;
  • concise detail of the claim;
  • summary of the facts;
  • if the claimant is seeking to recover debt then they should list all of these debts;
  • a reasonable time limit for the defendant to reply, usually 14 days;
  • a clear statement that you will initiate court proceedings if you do not receive a reply.

What is a Claim Form?

The claimant starts proceedings by issuing a claim form and paying the required fee. If the claim is for a sum of money, the fee is between £35 and £10,000, depending on the value of the claim. If the claim is for any remedy other than the recovery of a sum of money, then a fee of £465 or £175 is payable in the High Court or a county court, respectively.

What do I put in a Claim Form?

The claim form contains a concise statement of the nature of the claim and the remedy sought (for example, damages). Where the claimant is making a claim for money, the claim form must also include a statement of value of the amount claimed.

When should a Claim Form be served?

The claim form must be served on the defendant. The general rule is that service must be within four months after the date of issue, where the claim form is served within the jurisdiction, and within six months of the date of issue, where it is served out of the jurisdiction.

What is the Particulars of Claim?

The particulars of claim must set out full details of the claim, including the alleged facts on which the claim is based. The particulars may be included on the claim form. However, in a complex claim they are usually contained in a separate document.

When are Particulars of Claim served?

The particulars of claim must be served on the defendant within 14 days of service of the claim form in most courts (or within 28 days of service of the acknowledgment of service in the Commercial Court). Where a claim form is served at the end of its four or six months expiry period the particulars must be served at the same time. 

Do I need to instruct a barrister to draft particulars of claim?

In some cases, it may be appropriate to instruct an independent barrister or counsel before, or shortly after, proceedings have commenced. Working in conjunction with our litigation solicitors, specialist independent counsel can give advice on the merits and assist with the preparation of the statement of case.

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What is a limitation period?

The law sets out deadlines for bringing legal claims, which are referred to as limitation periods. The purpose of limitation periods is to prevent legal claims from being brought too long after the cause of action accrued. The length of the limitation period varies with different types of legal claim.

Why is limitation in litigation important?

Limitation is not something that should be ignored. Where a party has a strong case, but the limitation period has expired, the claim will be likely to fail. Even in unusual circumstances, where a party is prevented from issuing its claim in time for reasons beyond its control, the court has no discretion to extend the limitation period in this type of claim. It is, therefore, crucial that limitation issues are considered at the outset of any potential claims.

When does time start running on a claim?

Once the cause of action has accrued, the time for bringing a legal claim will start to run and the limitation period will begin. In order to stop time running before the expiration of the limitation period in relation to a particular cause of action, you would need to either issue a claim form at Court or enter into a standstill agreement with your opponent.

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The Limitation Act 1980 sets out strict statutory deadlines within which you must bring litigation claims. Your legal rights will become irreversibly time-barred if you fail to take legal action (or defend a claim on time). Therefore, you should seek specific legal advice about your legal dispute at the very first opportunity so that you understand the time you have left. Failure to take advice or delay in taking action can be fatal to your prospects of success.