Tracks and directions

Once the court had received the filled in directions questionnaires, the court will allocate the claim to one of the three tracks. This allocation will determine how the case proceeds.
Directions order

Scales of Justice in the CourtroomA directions order is made once the claim has been allocated to one of the three tracks. The order is sent to both parties and their solicitors if they are represented. The directions order will set a timetable that both parties must adhere to, such as:

  • Disclosure of documents
  • Exchange of documents
  • Witness statements from all relevant parties
  • Expert reports (if applicable)
  • The trial window or length of trial.

It may also give directions for specific issues such as specific disclosure.

The small claims track

coinsThe small claims track is intended for low value (under £10,000) claims (for matters of contract) where cases are dealt with quickly. Courts do not allow more than one day for a small claims hearing and expert evidence is not normally allowed, except with special permission from the court. The parties are often not legally represented, although most large creditors such as banks or debt purchasers issuing money claims will be represented by solicitors.

Hearings are presided over by the District Judge, not a Circuit Judge and disputes are resolved more by way of arbitration than by way of trial. There are no formal rules of evidence and the District Judge may decide to hold a hearing in private if the parties agree.

InfoCertain parts of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) do not apply to this track. Part 27 of the Civil Procedure Rules and its corresponding Practice Direction 27 deal with the small claims track.

Extent to which other Parts apply

27.2

(1) The following Parts of these Rules do not apply to small claims –

(a) Part 25 (interim remedies) except as it relates to interim injunctions;

(b) Part 31 (disclosure and inspection);

(c) Part 32 (evidence) except rule 32.1 (power of court to control evidence);

(d) Part 33 (miscellaneous rules about evidence);

(e) Part 35 (experts and assessors) except rules 35.1 (duty to restrict expert evidence), 35.3 (experts – overriding duty to the court), 35.7 (court’s power to direct that evidence is to be given by single joint expert) and 35.8 (instructions to a single joint expert);

(f) Subject to paragraph (3), Part 18 (further information);

(g) Part 36 (offers to settle); and

(h) Part 39 (hearings) except rule 39.2 (general rule– hearing to be in public).

(2) The other Parts of these Rules apply to small claims except to the extent that a rule limits such application.

(3) The court of its own initiative may order a party to provide further information if it considers it appropriate to do so.

Part 31 does not apply because a more limited form of disclosure applies as per Part 27.4(2) of the CPR. Requests for further information can only be made by the court (Part 27.4(3)). The rules on experts do not apply because expert evidence is not normally allowed. Part 36 offers do not apply because this would interfere with the no costs rule. See Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

Although requests under Part 31 and Part requests for further information do not apply to the small claims track, a case is not allocated until after a defence has been filed and directions questionnaires completed and received, so it is possible to send requests for documents and information under those parts of the CPR even for cases with value below £10,000 prior to filing a defence, as the claim would not yet have been allocated. See requesting documents and requests for further information.
Costs in the small claims track

In the small claims track, costs are normally covered by each side and not awarded against the losing party. The judge has no power to award costs to the successful party except in exceptional cases where the judge considers that the case is frivolous or vexatious or one which should not have been brought.

CPR 27.14 relates to costs:

(2) The court may not order a party to pay a sum to another party in respect of that other party’s costs, fees and expenses, including those relating to an appeal, except –

(a) the fixed costs attributable to issuing the claim which –

(i) are payable under Part 45; or

(ii) would be payable under Part 45 if that Part applied to the claim;

(b) in proceedings which included a claim for an injunction or an order for specific performance a sum not exceeding the amount specified in Practice Direction 27 for legal advice and assistance relating to that claim;

(c) any court fees paid by that other party;

(d) expenses which a party or witness has reasonably incurred in travelling to and from a hearing or in staying away from home for the purposes of attending a hearing;

(e) a sum not exceeding the amount specified in Practice Direction 27 for any loss of earnings or loss of leave by a party or witness due to attending a hearing or to staying away from home for the purposes of attending a hearing;

(f) a sum not exceeding the amount specified in Practice Direction 27 for an expert’s fees;

(g) such further costs as the court may assess by the summary procedure and order to be paid by a party who has behaved unreasonably;

This is supplemented by Practice Direction 27 as follows:

Costs

7.1  Attention is drawn to Rule 27.14 which contains provisions about the costs which may be ordered to be paid by one party to another.

7.2  The amount which a party may be ordered to pay under rule 27.14(2)(b) (for legal advice and assistance in claims including an injunction or specific performance) is a sum not exceeding £260.

7.3  The amounts which a party may be ordered to pay under rule 27.14(3)(c) (loss of earnings) and (d) (experts’ fees) are:

(1) for the loss of earnings or loss of leave of each party or witness due to attending a hearing or staying away from home for the purpose of attending a hearing, a sum not exceeding £95 per day for each person, and

(2) for experts’ fees, a sum not exceeding £750 for each expert.

Small claims track directions

Part 27.4(2) refers to the standard directions on the small claims track, including the requirement for each party to disclose the documents they intend to rely on at the hearing, at least 14 days before the hearing date.

(2) The court will –

(a) give the parties at least 21 days’ notice of the date fixed for the final hearing, unless the parties agree to accept less notice; and

(b) inform them of the amount of time allowed for the final hearing.

(3) In this rule –

(a) ‘standard directions’ means –

(i) a direction that each party shall, at least 14 days before the date fixed for the final hearing, file and serve on every other party copies of all documents (including any expert’s report) on which he intends to rely at the hearing;

The fast track

courtMost cases between £10,000 and £25,000 which can be dealt with at a trial lasting no longer than a day will be allocated to this track. More complex cases of this value may be allocated to the multi-track. Expert evidence is allowed but limited to no more than two fields of expertise and just one expert per field. Unlike the small claims track, costs can be awarded against the losing party.

Because costs can be awarded in favour of the winning party, it may be possible to obtain legal advice and representation on a Conditional Fee Agreement (CFA) basis. This type of agreement is also known as “No win no fee”.
If you are not confident of having a watertight defence, you may want to consider the option of requesting a one month stay to attempt settlement. See Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
You may also want to consider mediation whereby a third party can facilitate negotiations between the parties. See Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

The trial window will usually be around 6 months away from the directions hearing. Once the court receives the questionnaires, it will set a date for the trial within the trial window, and also inform the parties where it will take place.

Directions in the fast track

Part 28 of the Civil Procedure Rules and its corresponding Practice Direction 28 deal with the fast track.

General provisions

28.2

(1) When it allocates a case to the fast track, the court will give directions for the management of the case and set a timetable for the steps to be taken between the giving of the directions and the trial.

(2) When it gives directions, the court will –

(a) fix the trial date; or

(b) fix a period, not exceeding 3 weeks, within which the trial is to take place.

(3) The trial date or trial period will be specified in the notice of allocation.

(4) The standard period between the giving of directions and the trial will be not more than 30 weeks.

Practice Direction 27.3 sets out a typical timetable for the preparation of the case.

3.12  The table set out below contains a typical timetable the court may give for the preparation of the case.

Disclosure 4 weeks
Exchange of witness statements 10 weeks
Exchange of experts’ reports 14 weeks
Sending of pre-trial check lists (listing questionnaires) by the court 20 weeks
Filing of completed pre-trial check lists 22 weeks
Hearing 30 weeks

These periods will run from the date of the notice of allocation.

schedule appointmentThe dates for carrying out the timetable set by the court will be given as time and calendar dates, for example, by 4pm on 1 June. The sides may agree in writing to extend the times for exchanging the documents needed but they should tell the court the timetable that they have agreed. Any extension must not affect the date for returning the pre-trial checklists or the date of the trial. See disclosure for further information.

As part of the directions, you will be required to fill in a pre-trial checklist sent by the court to both sides with a date by which you must return it. The checklist will assist the judge in deciding whether further directions are required before the trial. See court process and case management for more information.

If you do not return the checklist in time, the court may impose a penalty, such as rejecting or striking out your defence.

Once the checklists are received, the court will decide whether further directions are needed before the trial, confirm how long will be needed for the trial and set a timetable for the trial itself, as well as giving directions regarding filing a trial bundle, which is a set of documents and evidence. The directions may specify the way the bundle should be presented.

The court will send you notice of the trial date no later than 21 days before the trial is due to start. See trial for more information about the trial itself.

ReferenceCosts are dealt with separately, see costs for more information.

Sample directions

Below is an example of how directions should be set out, taking into account the timetables from paragraph 3.12 to set the dates accordingly.

IN THE XXXX COUNTY COURT

CLAIM NO: XXXX

BETWEEN:

XXXXXX      CLAIMANT

-and-

XXXXXX     DEFENDANT

Defendant’s draft directions.
Before Deputy/District Judge Sitting at the XXXXX County Court XXXXXXXXXXXXX (court address).

It is ordered that:

  • The claim is allocated to the Fast Track
  • The Claimant shall serve upon the Defendant by no later than 4pm on XX/XX/XXXX a copy of the contract which the Claim is based upon.
  • Each party shall give standard disclosure of documents by serving copies together with a disclosure statement no later than 4pm on XX/XX/XXXX.
  • Each party shall serve on every other party the witness statements of all witnesses of fact on whom he intends to rely by 4pm on XX/XX/XXXX.
  • No expert evidence being necessary no party has permission to call or rely on expert evidence.
  • Each party shall serve any request for clarification or further information based on any document disclosed or statement served by another party no later than 14 days after disclosure or service. Any such request shall be dealt with within 7 days of service.
  • Each party must file a completed Pre-Trial checklist no later than 4pm on XX/XX/XXXX. The trial of this case will take place on a date to be fixed.
Multi-track

The multi-track is intended for the most complex cases, usually with a value over £25,000. The multi-track allows for maximum flexibility with regards to case management and procedure, directions and experts. Multi-track trials can last several days.

If you are involved in a case allocated to the multi-track or of such value that it’s likely to be allocated to multi-track, you should seek legal advice.
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