Civil or criminal?
The laws that have developed in the English legal system can be divided between civil and criminal laws and often separate courts are responsible for civil and criminal matters.
The civil justice system
The civil justice system is designed to sort out disputes between individuals or organisations. The burden of proof is usually on the claimant, who must prove his or her case on a balance of probabilities. Major reforms were introduced following Lord Woolf’s report, Access to Justice, which was published in 1996.
The civil courts
There are 2 main civil courts which hear civil cases at first (1st) instance. These are the County courts and the High court. The county courts hear the cases where less money is involved, whereas the High Court hears the bigger financial cases.
Dealing with cases “justly”
The 1st rule of the new Civil Procedure Rules lays down an overriding objective which is to underpin the whole system. This overriding objective is that the rules should enable the courts to deal with cases “justly”.
Almost all proceedings start with the same document, called a claim form. If the defendant files a defence, the court will serve an allocation questionnaire on each party. This is designed to enable the court to allocate each claim to one of the 3 tracks. For non-personal injury actions, a claim may be started in the High Court where the claimant expects to recover more than £15,000. For personal injury actions a claim can be started in the High Court only where the claimant expects to recover at least £50,000.
To push the parties into behaving reasonably during the pre-trial stage pre-action protocols have been developed. These lay down a code of conduct for this stage of proceedings.
Alternative dispute resolution
At various stages in a dispute’s history, the court will actively promote settlement by alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
Case management has been introduced, whereby the court plays an active role play in managing the litigation. To determine the level and form of case management cases have been divided into 3 types:
Small claims track
The courts now have tough powers to enforce the new rules on civil procedure to ensure that litigation is pursued diligently.
Money Claim Online
In 2002 Money Claim Online (MCOL) was established. It provides a debt recovery service over the internet for sums up to £100,000.
Problems with the Civil Court System
The high number of out-of-court settlements creates injustice, because the parties usually hold very unequal bargaining positions. The small claims procedure is quicker, simpler and cheaper than the full county court process, but the Consumers’ Association is of the view that the small claims procedure is not simple enough. In 2007 the government announced that it no longer intended to raise the small claims limit to £5,000 because this would not be in the interests of the consumers. There has been some concern that the UK might be developing a compensation culture, which has historically been associated with the U.S. Professor Zander has been a vocal critic of Lord Woolf’s reforms, suggesting that they would not succeed in reducing delays and expense.
PLAN for a civil courts question
Explain the track system of civil justice
¨ 2 main civil trial courts; the county court and the high court
¨ Under the rules of civil procedure following the Woolf reforms, judges exercise a case management role; which varies depending on which track a case is allocated to following the completion of an allocation questionnaire.
¨ Small claims track in the county court for cases between £5,000 and £1,000 for personal injury.
¨ fast-track cases in the county court between £5,000 and £15,000
¨ Multi-track for cases over £15,000 or those involving complex points of law.
¨ Multi-track is heard in the county court or High court, depending on the value and complexity of the case. the county court has unlimited jurisdiction in contract and tort claims, while the High court’s jurisdiction is now limited to claims over £15,000, personal injury over £50,000, and specialist claims required to be heard in the high court.
The aims of the 3 track systems are:
save expense by making litigation cheaper
Handle cases in a way which is proportionate to the amount involved, the importance of the case and the complexity of the issue.