Saturday 20 June 2009

The Civil Procedure Rules

The Civil Procedure Rules (or CPR) are the rules governing the conduct of cases in the civil courts of England and Wales. An up to date version is available from the Ministry of Justice's website.

There's no getting away from it: there are a lot of rules and being familiar with them is difficult and something that lawyers, in particular litigators, are paid well to do. I do not advise anyone to try DIY litigation based on reading through the rules but I appreciate sometimes there is no option. There is absolutely no substitute for reading the rules. I see numerous questions asked on internet forums and in briefs sent to me which are easily resolved by reading the rules.

When do the rules apply?

  • The rules do not (for the most part) apply to criminal cases which have their own set of rules (the Criminal Procedure Rules unsurprisingly)
  • The rules only apply to proceedings in certain courts: county courts, the High Court and the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.
  • Tribunals, such as employment tribunals have their own rules of procedure
  • Certain kinds of case (such as insolvency) are excluded by the rules: for a full list see CPR 2.1. There's more subtlety here. Some of these kinds of case piggy-back on the CPR. For example the insolvency rules incorporate chunks of the CPR.

Finding your way around the rules

The CPR is divided into numbered "parts" which are subdivided into "rules". For example rule 3 of part 5, written CPR 5.3 states that a signature required by the rules may be printed by computer. Most rules come together with one or more "practice directions" which tend to be more practical or detailed instructions on what to do in any particular situation. You should almost always read the practice direction that accompanies any rule.

Think of the rules as telling a story. The characters are:

  • the Claimant - who has started proceedings
  • the Defendant - who is the person being sued
  • any Additional Parties - who have been brought in as additional Claimants or Defendants during proceedings

If you try reading through you will find yourself immediately confronted with a considerable amount of peculiar vocabulary used in a technical way by the court. Fortunately there is a glossary and an index.

The two most useful terms to know are:

  • file - frequently a rule will require someone to "file" a document, this just means sending it to the court.
  • serve - on the other hand means sending something to someone other than the court (usually another party)

General rules

Parts 1-6 contain some important general rules. Part 1 is all about the "overriding objective" which the court is supposed to bear in mind when it is deciding what to do.

The other parts are mostly self-explanatory, although Part 3 has a rather understated title. It deals with the things a court may do to manage a case. In practice a court may do almost anything, though whether it will is another matter.

Getting a case under way

Before you start a claim you should make sure you have complied with any pre-action protocol if there is no specific pre-action protocol for your case then you need to make sure you comply with the practice direction on pre-action conduct.

  • A case is usually kicked off with a claim form (Part 7) though certain kinds of claim need to be started with a different kind of claim form (Part 8)
  • The Defendant will need to decide how to respond the claim form (Parts 9-11)
  • ... and then maybe file and serve a Defence (Part 15 - which also deals with how a Claimant can serve a "Reply" to the Defence).
  • If the Defendant doesn't respond or file and serve a Defence in time then the Claimant might want to obtain judgment in default (Part 12) which the Defendant might then want to try to set aside (Part 13).
  • In all this the Claimant and Defendant will be sending back and forth "statements of case", for example: the Claim Form, the Particulars of Claim, the Defence and maybe a Reply. There are unsurprisingly rules about what these should look like in Part 16
  • Mistakes happen and sometimes it is necessary to correct (or completely alter) statements of case, for which see Part 17.
  • The Claimant may have written an entirely unhelpful or confusing claim, or the Defendant a wholly inadequate Defence, there are sometimes ways to force the other side to say a little more by way of a Request for Further Information under Part 18.
  • Bringing more parties into the claim (for example where the Defendant wants to get someone else to contribute to any damages they are forced to pay) is then dealt with under Part 19.
  • Finally part 20 is a gem. It deals with a really crucial power that parties have at any time to make an offer (a kind of bet) with the other side. If the other party does not accept the offer but fails to beat it they may be punished in costs.

Continuing the case

Parts 21-22 give some more general information. Parts 23-30 deal with "interim" matters - things that may come up during the conduct of a case. CPR 23 is particularly important since it deals with applications to the court which are very common.

Parts 31-35 deal with evidence. CPR 36 is a crucial part dealing with how to make an offer (a kind of bet) to the other party to threaten them with costs sanctions if they don't beat it. CPR 38 is also vital to know about - it governs how you get out of a case. All this leads up to CPR 39 (the hearing) and CPR 40 (the judgment).

After judgment

The parts following deal with various matters that follow a judgment and also deal with certain kinds of specialist proceeding. The most crucial being:

  • CPR 43-48 are all about costs. The amount you hope the other side will have to pay you for your legal costs (and of course vice versa).
  • CPR 52 deals with appeals - relevant if you want to try to dispute the judgment or if you opponent does.
  • CPR 70-79 deal with different methods of enforcing a judgment, though CPR 75-77 and 79 should not normally be relevant to you (if you are bringing proceedings under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 you know more than I do).

Other rules

In the bad old days, before the CPR, the county courts had one set of rules and the supreme court (including the High Court and Court of Appeal) had another. The idea of the CPR was to unify the two systems into one. This has not quite happened and you will see that attached to the end of the CPR are two schedules: one for the Rules of the Supreme Court (RSC) and the other for the County Court Rules (CCR). These still apply but are likely only to be relevant when dealing with enforcement.

Some courts have, in addition to the CPR, their own Court Guides which give detailed instructions on what the court expects in litigation.

Useful Links

  • Roger Horne has put together a site called YAWS which has rather more cross-referencing than the official website and also cross-references some case law that is available online.

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