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A guide to the litigation process in England and Wales

06 February 2024

If you are involved in a dispute in England and Wales you need to know: what options there are for resolving the dispute; what litigation involves; the steps from the start of proceedings to trial; what parties to proceedings have to do; the fundamentals of court procedure; how to use legal advisers efficiently and cost effectively; and what happens after judgment.

The civil justice rules, which had been developed over centuries, were discarded in 1999 and replaced by new rules of court procedure. These rules are known as the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”). The aim of the CPR is to make civil justice more accessible, fair and efficient. The CPR are not just another set of rules tacked on to an existing way of doing things: since their inception they have demanded a completely new code of behaviour and attitude to dispute resolution. In particular there is an emphasis on the need to focus on investigating and preparing the case at an early stage of the dispute and commit management resources to the resolution of the dispute.

It should be noted that many of the rules have recently been re-drafted to reflect the work of thew Civil Rules Committee to simplify and condense the rules. All of these changes including all revisions made up to and including 31 December 2023 have been incorporated into this note. It should be noted that many of the rules have recently been re-drafted to reflect the work of the Civil Rules Committee to simplify and condense the rules. For cases being heard in the High Court there are, in addition to the CPR, court guides for each of the divisions. These provide further guidance on procedure as well as, from time to time, Practice Notes which practitioners are required to follow.

All cases which proceed to litigation are subject to the “overriding objective” brought in by the CPR (see below “The overriding objective”).

The CPR categorises cases into four tracks: the small claims track, the fast track, the intermediate track and the multi-track (see “Allocating Cases” below). Most of this note is concerned with the most substantial category of case, the multi-track.

The note does not detail the different courts in which a claim may be heard. We will discuss this with you if you intend to commence or defend any proceedings.

Many of the courts are now subject to electronic working so proceedings are commenced and continued electronically, allowing parties to issue and file applications 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

In a general note such as this, our aim is to provide an overview rather than a detailed guide. The litigation process has many variables. Inevitably, points will arise which have not been covered in this note. It should therefore be used as an overview and not as an ultimate authority on any of the points covered. We will give advice on specific matters as and when they arise.

To read the full in brief please click 'download files'.

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