Tessa’s Ten Top Tips on Court Proceedings

  1. The criminal courts deal with claims mostly brought by the state whereby someone is to be punished for doing something wrong.  The civil courts are there to decide on claims made where parties cannot agree or where someone wants to enforce their rights.  These tips are about civil claims.
  2. Court proceedings, any court proceedings, are not something to be entered into lightly.  If you make a mistake it could be difficult and expensive to deal with and take a long time to resolve so ALWAYS be very careful.  Never issue proceedings in a ‘gung ho’ manner.
  3. Unless you really know what you are doing or are following a reliable guide (such as our Eviction Guide) you should take some professional legal advice before you start.  Even if you are using a reliable guide this is often a good idea.
  4. For many types of claim there are ‘pre-action protocols’ – court rules which set out things you need to do before you issue proceedings. For example if a tenant brings a claim for compensation for disrepair there is a pre-action protocol which sets out the letters that they will need to send to the landlord first.
  5. Any court paperwork should be drafted in a clear but formal manner and ideally using numbered paragraphs.  Try not to be confusing, emotional or tell the Judge what the law is.
  6. If you are bringing a claim for compensation you will need to have evidence to prove (1) liability – whether you are legally entitled to compensation, and (2) quantum – how much you are entitled to get.  
  7. Evidence is critical.  Evidence can include paperwork, witness statements, or ‘things’ which can be brought to the court room to prove a point.  The Judge will also take account of the demeanour witnesses and are usually very astute when assessing whether or not someone is telling the truth.  However if you do not have any evidence to prove your claim you are not likely to succeed.
  8. When attending court hearings you should arrive on time and try to be smartly dressed as this shows respect for the court.  Always be polite and never shout at the Judge.  Remember that they can call for security and have the power to  order immediate imprisonment for ‘contempt of court’.
  9. If the Judge tells you that you need not say any more and spends a lot of time listening to your opponent – he is not being unfair.  This will normally mean that you have won!  However he will want to give your opponent a chance to say all he wants so he does not later complain that the Judge did not listen to him.
  10. Never, ever, withdraw your claim without trying to reach an agreement with your opponents.  There is a court rule which says that where a party withdraws their claim, they are automatically liable for the legal costs of their opponent.  This could prove very expensive.

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