What exactly IS Litigation?

What exactly is Litigation?

Litigation is one of those legal phrases that most people are aware of but non-legal people would probably struggle to explain.  This is because that it can be a complex process depending on the nature of the case.  Put simply, Litigation is the process of taking a dispute through the relevant procedures before proceeding to a court of law.  If there are conflicting parties who aren’t able to agree between themselves about the outcome of a dispute then they will take their dispute to solicitors who may be able to resolve the matter for the relevant parties but if they still do not reach an agreement then their case will be presented at a court of law for judgment and resolution.  The term can cover a wide range of subjects and types of case with many different facets and processes.

Some of the more common areas that litigation will cover include:

•    Contract disputes
•    Professional Negligence
•    Will disputes
•    Boundary disputes
•    Clinical Negligence and Personal injury claims
•    Employment disputes

Before any litigation process starts there needs to be an assessment of the situation and what the outcomes or desired outcomes are.  This is effectively the research stage and looks at what the claimant is looking to achieve, how this can be achieved and what the likelihood of success is.  While this can never be guaranteed of course, there does need to be an honest assessment of how it is thought the case could go.  At the same time, this stage looks at key factors to a claim from evidence to key figures and where these will assist or not as the case may be.  This all needs to be balanced with the potential costs so that the client is aware of what potential costs will be involved and how those costs are to be calculated.  Similarly, it is important to explore any other avenues to resolve the dispute before the litigation process begins. The reason for this is the fact that courts do not look favourably at parties if they do not try all avenues to resolve the matter before bringing a claim to court.

Once it has been decided that there is enough evidence for a claim, the claimant then must notify the defendant of the intentions of the claim.  This then gives the defendant the opportunity to admit or deny liability ahead of the claimant proceeding with the claim.

As the process has started, the claimant should then be aware of what is going to happen, broadly speaking.  From estimated timeframes to costs, outcomes and a timetable of events.  There is also a principle of all of the information being available to all parties so that everyone is able to respond and deal with all of the information made available that affects the case and to be able to assess merits of the case.

Depending on the nature and value of the case, the claim is lodged at the County Court or High Court and the defendant is served with the full details to which they can respond to contest the claim and serve a defence.  The claim is then allocated a particular ‘track’ depending on the value of the case.  Generally, the tracks will be as follows:

•    Up to £10,000 – small claims track
•    £10,000 to £25,000 – fast track
•    £25,000 and over – multi track and will be allocated to the High Court

Now that proceedings have begun, the court will manage the case and the parties will be given directions as to what they need to do to prepare for trial.  One of the most important factors that the Judge will try to set out from the beginning is costs for both parties to ensure that no party spends more than they have been allocated. All parties will be working towards the trial date and they may apply to the court for any specific orders that may be required such as forcing the other side to undertake a task or step that they haven’t done according to the directions given.

The trial stage is where the judge will decide where the case will fall including liability and costs.  This will determine what needs to be paid and by who.  In a High Court situation, the general rule is that the losing side will pay the winning side’s cost.  If the costs cannot be agreed upon by both parties then there will be a post trial where a different judge will determine the final costs to be paid.

Once the costs have been allocated in the post trial, the winning party will be given a timescale and date to receive the awarded costs.  If payment isn’t made or is not able to be made then debt collection proceedings will begin to recover the costs.

Whilst this gives a brief and concise summary of the process of litigation, this can however take a long time with many twists and turns during various steps.  The true nature of how a case will play out can never be completely accurately predicted but as a general guide the above should prepare the parties for what lies ahead. 

Our litigation team will support you throughout the process after looking at the case in detail, if you are looking for advice then we are always here and happy to help assess your situation.  We have offices in Shirley Solihull, Warwick, Tamworth and our Solicitors in Henley in Arden are ready to answer any legal questions you have.