Civil Litigation Process in the UK

In the UK we have criminal law which deals with criminal offences and often involves an official investigation by the police.

For non-criminal offences in the UK we have civil law. This is used to deal with disputes around topics such as: negligence, breach of contract, property, probate and divorce to name but a few. These disputes often work towards compensation for damages, the provision of monetary funds, goods, services.  In addition, the civil process can be used for enforcement purposes i.e. to recover monies or enforce a particular court order to take positive steps/prevent steps being taken.  

Civil litigation solicitors can help you file a civil claim and reach a resolution in the best way for your specific circumstances.

Civil Procedure Rules

All parties must adhere to the Civil Procedure Rules which provide instructions as to how to deal with matters. 

The aim of the rules is to ensure fair and just results are delivered and are written in a way that are easily understood by users of the civil legal system whether represented by solicitors or not.  The rules detail appropriate procedures to adopt at reasonable cost and which can be completed within a reasonable time-scale. 

The ‘overriding objective’ of the rules is to ensure cases are dealt with justly, at proportionate cost, ensuring parties are on an equal footing, saving expense.  It is also a key objective to ensure matters are dealt with expeditiously and fairly, allotting an appropriate share of the courts resources to enforce compliance with the rules. 

The rules provide the courts with ultimate control to determine how each case progresses by making appropriate directions, setting strict timetables and ensuring parties comply with them, backed up by a system of sanctions which the court can impose. 

How long does a litigation case take?

Before commencing litigation, claimants should contact the defendant highlighting their claim in the aim of both parties reaching an agreement and settling before going to court in the first place. In this instance, since litigation was never necessary, a settlement can be reached as quick as both parties can manage.

Once the court has been instructed of a civil claim and the litigation is underway, there is a timetable of events that have to be adhered to. How long this timeline takes to progress will differ for every case.

Though, since the overriding objective aims to minimise the total cost, it will be pressed upon all parties to act quickly so that trial is reached as soon as possible.

Also, parties can reach a settlement out of court at any time before the trial and therefore reduce the time and cost of their case for all involved.

How long does civil litigation take in the UK?

Civil litigation stages

There are multiple important stages to be aware of when considering whether to pursue a civil litigation claim. These can be broken down into pre-litigation, the issue of court proceedings (‘litigation’), and post-litigation.

Each stage involves several steps and processes but this is the basic narrative that all civil claims will follow, unless settled before issuing court proceedings and therefore not being ‘litigated’ in the first place.

Pre-litigation process

The pre-litigation period relates to the period/processes prior to the courts involvement and the issue of court proceedings.  

It is important for the parties to be as open as possible so that all necessary information and documentation is available applying a ‘cards on the table approach’ to narrow the issues, enable each party to assess prospects of success and cultivates an environment of cooperation.

This approach allows a party to gain an insight as to whether or not they have a good case early on. If they have a weak case, they may be advised to agree to a settlement fairly quickly or withdraw their claim. Conversely, if they have a strong case then they may be advised to progress to the litigation stage in order for the courts to intervene and make a fair formal finding/order which is enforceable.

Depending on the type of dispute, there may be certain protocols that both parties must adhere to prior to going to court. For example, for a landlord and tenant dispute such as an unfair eviction if a tenant is pregnant, certain specific information/disclosure may need to be supplied that wouldn’t be expected in a family case. Your civil litigation solicitor will be able to advise you as to your specific case.

All pre-litigation protocols are designed to aid and encourage settlement before proceeding to court and create a strong and efficient standing for managing the case if court is necessary.  

If either party do not abide by the relevant protocols the court can intervene and apply penalties to either party to place them on an even footing. This can include adverse costs consequences, e.g. the party in breach paying higher rates of interest for a particular period or forgoing interest for a particular period or payment towards an opponent’s costs incurred.

Pre litigation process with Lawyer

The court litigation process

If there is no response during the pre-litigation stage or a settlement cannot be reached the litigation process begins with the claim being filed at the appropriate court.

County Courts tend to deal with claims under £50,000 and the High Court primarily deal with claims of £50,000 and above.

Litigation begins a timeline of events and a Defendant must file a Defence if they want to contest the claim, or the court can rule in favour of the claimant for their full amount.

After a Defence has been filed the matter will be allocated to the appropriate track (subject to value) which attaches to it a number of interim matters known as directions that have to be met on time, otherwise each party risks losing their case.  Directions usually include: disclosure, exchange of witness evidence, expert reports (if appropriate) and preparation for Trial.   

The last stage of the litigation process is Trial (a final Hearing). Here, the claim will be decided and a judgement will be made official enforcing a settlement amount/order and address costs.  It is generally accepted that the loser of the case pays the court fees on behalf of the winner but this may not necessarily be the case.

Post-litigation stage

This stage is only relevant if either party has an issue with the outcome of the case.

For example, the loser of the case may want to appeal the case if they believe some information had not been accounted for or treated with as much concern as it should have.

There is also the possibility that the loser may refuse to pay the settlement either on time or at all. In this case, bailiffs and penalties may be introduced in order to get the winner the total compensation value that they are entitled to.

Need help with a civil claim?

Our solicitors could help, get in touch using the contact form below.

Southport Solicitors

Tel: 0170-454 2002

Fax: 0170-454 3144

11 St George's Place

Lord Street



Liverpool Solicitors

Tel: 0151-236 2233

Fax: 0170-454 3144

The Cotton Exchange Building

Bixteth Street


L3 9LQ