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Glossary of useful terms

 

Acknowledgement of service

When a claim is served on a defendant the defendant receives a response pack including a form which they must use to acknowledge they have received the claim. The defendant must file (return) the acknowledgment form with the court within 14 days.

Adjourned generally or sine die

Indefinite suspension of the hearing of a case by order of the court.

Adjournment

The postponing of the hearing of a case until a later date.

Affidavit

A written statement of evidence confirmed on oath or by affirmation to be true and taken before someone such as a solicitor who has authority to administer it.

Adversarial

The conduct of a case within a conflict based approach with each party fighting their case before a neutral party such as a judge who decides who has “won”.

Allocation

The process by which a judge assigns a defended civil case, to one of three case management tracks, the small claims track, the fast track or the multi-track.

Allocation questionnaire

A case (claim) is allocated to a case management track, when an allocation questionnaire has been returned completed by the people involved (parties) in the case. Reponses to the questionnaire provide a judge with information on case value and other matters, to assist him or her to allocate the case to the correct track.

Ancillary relief (now called Financial Proceedings)

Additional claims (e.g. in respect of maintenance) attached to the petition for divorce/judicial separation/nullity.

Appeal

Application to a higher court or other body for review of a decision taken by a lower court or tribunal. The higher court may overturn (i.e. reject) or uphold the lower court’s decision. Often, permission (leave) is required, for an appeal to occur. Appeals are rarely allowed on the facts found by the lower court.

Appellant

A person appealing to a higher court or body against a decision made in a lower court or body.

Applicant

Person making a request or demand of the court, e.g. person who issues an application for relief such as summary judgement, further time for filing documents etc.

Arbitrator or arbitration

A process in which both sides agree to use an independent arbitrator (an impartial person) who gives a binding decision in the matter, instead of going to court. It is not usually possible to take a claim to court after it has been through arbitration.

Attachment of earnings order

An order that instructs an employer to deduct a regular amount, fixed by the court, from a debtor's earnings and to pay that money into court. The court pays the money to the person or people to whom it is owed.

Award

Typically the result of an arbitration hearing (or the amount of damages assessed by a court).

Bailiff

Bailiffs and enforcement officers are people authorised to remove and sell possessions in order to pay the money a debtor owes to a person or an organisation. They may also conduct evictions, and arrest people.  A bailiff can also serve (deliver) court documents on people.

Bankrupt

Insolvent, i.e. unable to pay creditors. If declared bankrupt a person has all goods/effects administered by a liquidator or trustee and sold for the benefit of those creditors; as a result of an order to be declared under the Insolvency Act 1986.

Barrister

A member of the bar: a lawyer who gives specialist advice and is entitled to represent clients in all the courts. Barristers are usually specialists, in the past instructed by solicitors, but now instructed by other professionals and ever able to act on direct instructions by the public.

Brief

Written instructions to counsel to appear at a hearing on behalf of a party prepared by the solicitor and setting out the facts of the case and the relief or remedy sought.

Case management conference (CMC)

This is a meeting between all parties to a case and the Judge to check the progress of the case, with regards to costs and other practical and administrative matters. The numbers of CMCs held depend on the complexity of the case.

Case management tracks

Civil cases are allocated to one of three case management tracks, depending on financial value, issues of law and the likely duration (length) of the case. The three tracks are (i) the small claims track in which cases to the value of five thousand pounds can be considered and the claimant does not have to have legal representation (ii) the fast track for cases of value between five and fifteen thousand pounds and (iii) the multi- track for cases of value over fifteen thousand pounds. Legal representation is advisable in the fast and multi-tracks.

Chambers

i) Private room, or court from which the public are excluded in which a District Judge or Judge may conduct certain sorts of hearings;
ii) Offices used by a barrister.

Circuit Judge

A judge between the level of a High Court Judge and a District Judge, who sits in the County Court and/or Crown Court.

Charging order

A court order directing that a charge be put on the judgment debtors’ property, such as a house or piece of land to secure payment of money due. This prevents the debtor from selling the property or land - without paying what is owed to the claimant.

Civil case or claim

A civil dispute between two or more parties that involves court action as distinct from a criminal case. See claim.

Civil Procedure Rules

The rules and procedures for proceedings in civil courts in England and Wales. An important feature is active case management by the courts.

Claim

Civil proceedings issued in the County or High Court. Previously know as an Action.

Claimant

The person issuing the claim. Previously known as the Plaintiff.

Claim form (previously a writ)

Proceedings in a civil court start with the issuing of a claim form. The form, which is issued by the court (after the claimant has filed the form in court), includes a summary of the nature of the claim and the remedy (e.g. compensation or injunction) sought.

Commissioner of Oaths

Solicitors authorised by the Lord Chancellor to administer oaths and affirmations to a statement of evidence.

Common law

The law established by precedent from judicial decisions, a system used in many Anglo-Saxon countries, to be distinguished from a code based system, as used in most of the European Union.

Compensation

Usually a sum of money offered or awarded in recompense (to make amends) for an act, error or omission that harmed someone. The harm suffered may have been loss, personal injury or inconvenience.

Contempt of court

Disobedience to the court or wilful disregard for the judicial process. In civil cases, for example, failing to appear as a witness without informing the court or the party that called you. A person found to be in civil contempt of court can be fined or imprisoned.

Contributory negligence

Partial responsibility of a claimant for the injury or damage in respect of which he/she claims damages due to their own negligence.

Costs

In civil proceedings the general rule is the person who wins the case is entitled to his or her legal costs. The court may decide to reduce the costs to be paid by the losing side and sometimes award costs to the loser if it feels that the winner has behaved unreasonably. The award of costs is at the court’s discretion.

Counsel

A barrister or solicitor in legal proceedings.

County Court

County Courts deal with civil matters such as disputes over contracts, unpaid debts and negligence claims. County courts deal with all monetary claims up to £50,000. There are 218 County Courts in England and Wales. The County Court is a court of first instance – where civil cases start.

County court judgment (CCJ)

A judgment of the County Court that orders a defendant to pay a sum of money to the claimant. CCJs are recorded on the Register of County Court Judgments for six years and can affect a defendant’s credit rating or ability to borrow money.

Court of Appeal

Divided into:
i) civil and
ii) criminal divisions. It hears appeals:
i) from decisions in the High Court and County Courts and,
ii) against convictions or sentences passed by the Crown Court, (see also Public Trustee Monies held in Court, in the name of the Accountant General, for suitors, minors, Court of Protection patients etc).

Court of Protection

The branch of the High Court with jurisdiction over the estates of people mentally incapable of handling their own financial affairs.

Creditor

A person to whom money is owed by a debtor.

Cross-examination

The questioning of a witness by the other side in a case. This is usually of a hostile nature with a view to undermining the evidence given.

Crown Court

The Crown Court deals with all crimes committed for trial by Magistrates Courts. Cases for trial are generally heard before a judge and jury. The Crown Court also acts as an appeal court for cases heard and dealt with by the Magistrates Court. The Crown Court can also deal with some civil and family matters.

Damages

An amount of money claimed as compensation for physical/material loss, e.g. personal injury, breach of contract.

Debtor

A person who owes money to someone or to an organisation.

Decree

An order of the court in proceedings commenced by petition, e.g. divorce.

Decree absolute

A final certificate, resulting from an application, dissolving a marriage.

Decree nisi

Initial order for divorce which will stand unless cause to contrary is shown within a set period.

Declaration

Court order setting out the rights of a party in the form of a statement by the court.

Default judgment

May be obtained by the claimant without a hearing if the defendant fails to reply or pay within a 14 day period after service of the claim or file a defence within a further period. A claimant can apply for a default judgment if the amount claimed is specified or for a judgment on liability if the amount claimed is unspecified.

Defence or defending a claim (civil)

When the defendant disputes the claim made by the claimant. The defence has to be filed usually within 28 days of service of the claim.

Disclosure

Parties to a civil case must disclose (show to the other party) documents they intend to rely on in court to support their case.

Discovery of documents

Mutual exchange of evidence and all relevant information held by each party relating to the case. This will be ordered by the court and take place between the service of the defence and the hearing of the claim at trial.

Discontinuance

Notice given by the court, on instruction by the claimant, that they no longer wish to proceed with the case.

Dismissal

To make order or decision that a claim be ceased.

District Judge

A judicial officer of the court whose duties involve hearing applications made within proceedings and some final hearings subject to any limit of jurisdiction. Previously known as Registrars.

Enforcement

Methods of pursuing the enforcement of a civil action after judgment has been made in favour of a party. (These processes are carried out by the Magistrates Court to collect fines and other monetary orders made in the Crown Court).

Evidence

Documentary, oral or other material which is used to support a person’s case in a court of law.

Exhibit

Item or document referred to in an affidavit or witness statement used as evidence during a court trial or hearing.

Expert witness

Person employed to give technical or expert evidence on a subject in which they are qualified or have expertise.

Fast track

The path to which defended claims of not more than £15,000 are allocated.

Filing

The process of delivering or presenting forms and other documents to a court. For example a claim or a defence to a claim must be filed with the court and served on the other party.

Fixed costs

Costs in civil cases that are set at a certain level and can be claimed in specific circumstances. For example, if a defendant does not acknowledge a claim, the claimant can obtain judgment and an order for fixed costs to offset the cost of beginning the claim.

Garnishee order

A summons issued by a claimant, against a third party, for seizure of money or other assets in their keeping, but belonging to the defendant. Now known as third party debt orders. It is used to enforce a judgement once this has been obtained.

Guardian

A person appointed to safeguard/protect/manage the interests of a child or person with a mental disability.

Hearing

A hearing is the trial of the case or of a preliminary application. The hearing of the trial is usually held in public.

Inspection of documents

Arrangements made by the parties to allow mutual exchange and copying of documents. This takes place before the hearing of the case.

Interlocutory

Interim, pending a full order/decision, e.g. interlocutory judgment for damages pending further hearing to assess the final amount to be awarded.

Interim order

An order made during proceedings which is not a final order.

Issue

To initiate legal proceedings in pursuit of a claim.

Judgement set aside

A judgment or order can be set aside (cancelled or made void) at the request of a party to the case in certain circumstances, for example if they were too ill to attend court on the day of the trial.

Judicial review

A uniform system for the exercise by the High Court of its supervisory jurisdiction over inferior courts, tribunals and public bodies and persons. The remedy of judicial review is concerned not with the decision of which review is sought but with the decision making.

Jurisdiction

The area and matters over which a court has legal authority.

Leave

Leave means ‘permission’. Some steps in legal action require the permission of the court. For example a losing party may require leave to appeal.

Libel

A written and published statement/article which contends damaging remarks which may harm a person’s reputation.

Litigant in person

A person who starts or defends a case without legal representation. Such a person is entitled to be accompanied by another person who may advise them, but may not address the court (a McKenzie friend).

Litigation friend

A person who conducts legal proceedings on behalf of a child or a mentally incapacitated person.

Maintenance pending suit

A temporary order for financial provision made within divorce proceedings until such time as the proceedings are finalised (i.e. by issue of the Decree Absolute).

Mediation

A process for resolving disagreements in which an impartial third party (the mediator) helps people in dispute to find a mutually acceptable resolution through negotiation. If mediation fails court proceedings can be initiated or re-activated.

Mesne profits

The damage payable to a landlord for losses incurred because his tenant stayed in possession of the property after the tenancy came to an end.

Motion

An application by one party to the High Court for an order in their favour.

Multi Track

The path that defended claims over £15,000 are allocated to.

Northampton Bulk Centre

Bulk users in court actions are businesses and local authorities. Their claims are issued by this centre in the name of Northampton County Court. This centre deals with administrative casework on a larger scale than most courts. For example, they will issue debt recovery and hire purchase claims in multiples for businesses.

Notary public

A legal practitioner, usually a solicitor, who attests deeds or other documents or makes certified copies of them in order to render the deeds or copies authentic, especially for use abroad.

Notice of Issue

Notice sent by a court to the claimant giving notification of the case number allocated to their action and details of fees paid. It confirms date of service.

Nullity

Application to the court for a declaration that a marriage be declared 'void' or be annulled i.e. declared never to have existed or to have subsisted until the court dissolved it.

Oath

A solemn appeal by which the party calls his God to witness that what he says is the truth, or that what he promises to do he will do. If a witness does not wish to do this they can affirm.

Official Receiver

A civil servant who works for the Department of Trade and Industry and is appointed by the court to act as:-
i) a liquidator when a company is being wound up;
ii) a trustee when an individual is made bankrupt.
The duties of an official receiver will include examining the company/bankrupt's property which is available to pay their debts and distributing the money amongst the creditors.

Official Solicitor

A solicitor or barrister appointed by the Lord Chancellor and working in the Lord Chancellor's Department. The duties include representing, in legal proceedings, people who are incapable of looking after their own affairs e.g. children/persons suffering from mental illness.

Ombudsman

Independent ‘referees’ who consider complaints against public and private organisations in a wide range of fields including housing, health and banking. They are often used as a last resort when complaints cannot be resolved through an organisation’s own complaints procedure. Ombudsman services are free to use. Recommendations made by ombudsmen are not binding on the person making the complaint (complainant). They can still go to court even if the ombudsman decides against them.

Oral evidence

Evidence given to a court, verbally rather than in writing.

Order

A direction by a court.

Originating application

A method of commencing proceedings under the authority of a specific Act of Parliament, e.g. Landlord and Tenant Act, whereby the applicant asks the Court to grant an order in their favour.

Part 8 Claim

Under Civil Procedure Rules these replace the originating summons. The Part 8 procedure is used where the claimant seeks the court’s decision on a question which is unlikely to involve a substantial dispute of fact.

Particulars of Claim

This document contains details of the claimant’s claim which must be contained in the claim form or served shortly after the claim form has been served in a separate document. The particulars should be a concise statement of the facts of the claim.

Personal injury claim

A civil claim, which relates to physical or mental harm suffered by a claimant, due to the defendant’s alleged negligence.

Pleadings

Documents setting out claim/defence and position of parties involved in civil proceedings.

Practice directions

General guidance from the court regarding the procedure to be followed in certain circumstances or cases. The aim is to increase co-operation between parties and therefore the chances of an early settlement.

Pre-action protocols

These are steps to be followed by parties to a dispute prior to legal action. The aim is to increase co-operation between parties and therefore the chances of an early settlement.

Precedent

The decision of a case which establish principles of law that act as an authority for future cases of a similar nature. English or common law is based largely on the law established by earlier precedents.

Probate

The legal process of dealing with the estate of a deceased person and distributing property under a valid will. The grant of probate confirms the authority of the executor which derives from the will.

QC

See Queen's Counsel.

Quash

To annul, i.e. to declare no longer valid.

Quantum

In a damages claim the amount of compensation to be determined by the court. This is to be distinguished from the question of liability, i.e. whether the defendant has to pay any damages.

Queen's Counsel (QC)

Barristers of at least ten years standing may apply to become Queen's Counsel. QCs undertake work of an important nature and are referred to as 'silks' which is derived from the silk gown that is worn.

Receiver

Person appointed by the Court of Protection to act on behalf of a patient, and also by a mortgagee to administer property.

Respondent (Civil & Crime)

The defending party (person) in an appeal or in a petition to the courts. See also Appellant.

Response pack

A response pack is sent to the defendant in a civil claim with the claim form or with the particulars of claim (if they were served separately). The pack contains all the forms needed to reply to the claim.

Settlement

A voluntarily agreement by the claimant and defendant to settle their civil case.

Skeleton argument

A written summary of the main points of a case presented before a hearing to assist the court.

Slander

Spoken words which have a damaging effect on a person's reputation and which are treated as actionable in law.

Small Claims Track

The path that defended claims of no more than £5,000 (and personal injury and housing disrepair claims of no more than £1,000) are allocated to.

Solicitor

Member of the legal profession chiefly concerned with advising clients and preparing their cases and representing them in some courts. May also act as advocates before certain courts or tribunals for barristers when they go to court.

Statement of case

The statement of case contains the outline of the claimant’s case and includes: (i) a claim form, (ii) the particulars of claim – where these are not included in the claim form; (iii) the defence and (iv) a reply to the defence (v) any counterclaim.

Statement of truth

Every statement of case must be verified by a statement of truth, signed by the parties involved. A statement of truth or claim and defence is a statement that says that a party believes the facts they have written down are true.

Stay

A suspension of court proceedings. This remains in effect until an order has been followed. No action may be taken in the case other than an application to have the stay lifted. A case can also be stayed when an offer of payment is accepted or if the court feels it is necessary.

Stay of Execution

An order following which judgment cannot be enforced without leave of the court.

Striking a case out (striking out)

The court can strike out a case (prevent all further proceedings) if a party fails to comply with a rule, practice direction or court order. It can also happen if it appears there are no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending a claim. Either party (the defendant or the claimant) can ask the court to strike a case or defence out.

Subpoena

A summons issued to a person directing their attendance in court or in tribunal to give evidence.

Summary judgement

A judgment obtained by a claimant where there is no real defence to the case or the defence contains no valid grounds. A summary judgment can be obtained without a trial or hearing. A defendant can also obtain summary judgment if he or she can establish that the claimant has no real prospect of succeeding on the claim.

Summons

Order to appear or to produce evidence to a court.

Assessment of costs

An assessment of a solicitor's bill in civil proceedings by a court to ensure that all charges against the legal aid fund are fair and reasonable and properly payable.

Third party debt order (formerly Garnishee)

An order issued by a claimant, against a third party, to seize money or other assets in their keeping, but belonging to the debtor. Orders can be granted preventing a defendant from withdrawing money from their bank or building society account. The money is paid to the claimant from the account. A third party debt order can also be sent to anyone who owes the defendant money.

Tort

A civil wrong, such as trespass, negligence, nuisance or defamation. As well as damages, remedies available include an injunction to prevent harm occurring again or restitution.

Trial (civil)

Civil trials are generally held before one or more judges without a jury. The form and length of a civil trial will depend on the track to which the case has been allocated or court handling the case.

Trial bundles

These are the documents that are likely to be referred to in a trial or tribunal hearing. Identical bundles are prepared for the judge and the parties to the case. They will see all the evidence and documents relied on.

Trial window

A period of time within which the case must be listed for trial.

Unspecified claim

A claim where the amount to be awarded is left to the court to determine, e.g. damages to be assessed for personal injuries. Previously known as an unliquidated claim.

Walking possession

A signed agreement by a debtor not to remove goods levied by a bailiff under the authority of a warrant of execution and to allow the bailiff access at any time to inspect the goods, in consideration of which the bailiff leaves the goods in the possession of the debtor.

Ward of court

The title given to a minor who is the subject of a wardship order. The order ensures that custody of the minor is held by the court with day to day care of the minor being carried out by an individual(s) or local authority. As long as the minor remains a ward of court, all decisions regarding the minors upbringing must be approved by the court, e.g. transfer to a different school, medical treatment etc.

Wardship

High Court action making a minor a ward of court.

Warrant of execution

A method of enforcing a judgment, the bailiff is authorised to remove goods belonging to a defendant from their home or business for sale at public auction.

Witness summons

A document issued by a court which requires a person to give evidence in court or to produce a report or other documentation for the court

Writ of summons

An original writ was anciently the mode of commencing every action at common law. All civil actions are now commenced using a claim form.