How to Obtain Litigation Documents in a Court Case


What are Court Documents?

After civil legal proceedings are commenced, certain documents, known as Court Documents, are produced as part of the process. Some of these Court Documents are produced by a party in the case, and some are produced by the court itself. Here are some examples:


Order

An Order document is normally one or two pages and sets out the order or orders made by the court on a particular date. It will have the court stamp containing the Royal Coat of Arms (sometimes called a "seal"). 




Sometimes, before the judge makes an order, a party will submit a draft order containing the wording of an order they would like the court to make. The judge may make the order using the wording proposed, or may decide to use different wording when making the order, or may decide to make a completely different order. It is important, therefore, to get a copy of the order with the court stamp on it so that you are sure that it is the order which the court actually made in the end rather than just a draft of what one party wanted the court to order.


Notice of Hearing

A Notice of Hearing gives advance notice of the date, time and place of a court hearing, how long it is expected to last, and what type of hearing it is (e.g. trial, hearing of an application, case management conference).



Judgment

A Judgment (exampleis quite a long document which gives the judge’s reasons for coming to a decision.     

 

The above three types of court document are produced by the court itself, sealed (i.e. stamped with the court stamp) and sent to the parties. However sometimes the judge will ask one of the barristers who appeared at the hearing to draft an Order which the judge has indicated is to be made but it will then be checked by the judge before having the court seal (stamp) applied to it and being sent out by the court.

Pleadings

Claim Form




Particulars of Claim

(example)

Defence

Reply to Defence

Defence and Counterclaim

Reply and Defence to Counterclaim

Reply to Defence to Counterclaim

Further Information - sometimes known as Further and Better Particulars or Response to Part 18 Request


All the above are collectively known as pleadings, sometimes called statements of case, although you won't find the actual words "pleading" on them. Each of these types of document is drafted by one of the parties (usually by their barrister) and then signed by the party and sent to the court office and to the other party. There are different types of statement of case but together they set out concisely what each party claims, admits or disputes. A Claim Form has to be sealed (i.e. stamped with the court stamp) by the court to be valid so after the Claimant has filled in the Claim Form it is sent to (or, where the court has an online system, uploaded to) the court office to be sealed (stamped) and it is the sealed copy which is then used. It is best to obtain a copy of the sealed Claim Form because the seal (and date entered by the court) is proof of the date it was issued (which can be important). Apart from the Claim Form, none of the other pleadings have to be sealed. The party sending other pleadings still has to send a copy to the court to go on the court file but the copy for the other party can be sent direct as it does not need to be sealed first by the court. Pleadings are filed and served at the beginning of all court proceedings but not all of the different types of pleading documents are used in every case. For example if there is no counterclaim then there will just be a Defence document and no Defence and Counterclaim Document. If no Further Information is requested there will be no Further Information documents.

 

Application Notice 

Copies of an Application Notice document are sent to (or, where the court has an online system, uploaded to) the court office which fixes a date for the hearing of the application and then provides a Notice of Hearing giving the time, date, and location at which the application will be heard (or sometimes the time of an appointment at which the actual date of hearing will be fixed). An application could be, for example, for permission to use an expert witness at the eventual trial, for an interim injunction to preserve the status quo pending the trial, or for some other order needed before the whole case is eventually decided at the trial. In some cases there are a lot of applications, in others there are none. In some court offices the Notice of Hearing is not a separate  document but is actually a stamp on the Application Notice. 

 

 

Witness statements filed in connection with the Application

The Application Notice has a small box on it which can be used as a witness statement but usually the party sending in the Application Notice does not use this but instead sends a separate witness statement with it in support of the application. After receiving a copy of the Application Notice and witness statement the other party may file and serve a witness statement in response. Then the first party may file and serve another witness statement, etc. A witness statement should have words such as Witness Statement of John Smith
on it, often within parallel horizontal lines ("tramlines"). 

Exhibits

Each witness statement may be accompanied by one of more "exhibits". In the witness statement it may say, for example "I refer to a photograph marked Exhibit JJS2"  and the photograph referred to will be separate with a front-sheet identifying it as Exhibit JJS2.  



Copies of all the documents mentioned so far will normally be held on the court file for the case (but sometimes large Exhibits are not held on the court file). This is so that a judge can refer to them when managing the case (e.g. deciding what directions to give at a case management conference or reading up on the procedural history when considering an application).

 

Witness Statements (for use at a trial) 

The witness statements referred to above are witness statements which relate to a specific application. Copies of application witness statements will be on the court file. However copies of the “main” witness statements which will be used at the trial (and any accompanying Exhibits) will not generally be on the court file – they will just be exchanged between the parties – usually sometime after the Disclosure of Documents stage - so only the parties will have copies of them until just before the trial (when they will be included in a trial bundle copies of which will be sent to the court).

Witness statements should have words such as Witness Statement of John Smith on them, often within parallel horizontal lines ("tramlines"). 

 

List of Documents

Copies of Lists of Documents disclosed by each party to the other will not normally be on the court file because the directions given by the court are normally that such disclosure lists are to be served but not filed. Normally the court’s directions are that disclosure lists must be served after the statements of case stage and before the exchange of witness statements stage.


Appellant's Notice

An Appellant's Notice, sometimes known as a Notice of Appeal, is the document used to appeal from the decision of a judge in one court to a higher court - an appeal court - such as the Court of Appeal (or the High Court for certain appeals from the County Court).    

The appeal court will will put the court stamp (sometimes called the court "seal"), containing the Royal Coat of Arms, on the copies of the Appellant's Notice it receives and give/send copies back to the party appealing so that they can serve sealed copies on the other party. It is best to obtain a copy of the sealed Appellant's Notice because the seal (and date entered by the court) is proof of the date it was filed (which can be important) and shows the case number which the appeal court has allocated to it. In the case of some appeals (such as some planning appeals) the Appellant's Notice is not sealed until after the court has given permission to appeal. If no sealed copy of the Appellant's Notice is yet available, an unsealed copy should be obtained.    


What do Court Documents look like?

It is easier to find documents when you know what they might look like. In terms of appearance, most court documents are in one of two styles.


Pre-printed Forms 

 Some are on pre-printed forms with the details filled in in boxes as shown below. You can see some of the different forms at www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/forms Each form is different but they have a similar style which is easy to recognise




Typed Documents with Tramlines 

Some documents are drafted from scratch without using a form. Usually you can recognise these because the top half of the first page will have the name of the court and the names of the parties and, below that, the type of document in tramlines like this:

 

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

 

BETWEEN:-

 

JOHN SMITH

Claimant

 

- and -

 

LUCY JONES

Defendant

 

____________________________________________

 

PARTICULARS OF CLAIM

 

___________________________________________

 


Offer letters

Offers to settle made by one party to another (if any) should be sent to your barrister when you first consult them. Offers will not be on the court file. Offers may be on a form or may be in a simple letter format. Look out for the words “Without Prejudice” “Without Prejudice Except as to Costs” “Calderbank offer” “Part 36 Offer” or “Open Offer” in the title of the letter, perhaps underlined or in block capitals.

 

Obtaining Copies of Documents for your Case

You should have copies of all of the above documents which have been sent out, so far, in your case and, when you instruct a barrister, the barrister will need to see them, or at least some of them.

It is possible, however, that you may not have copies of some of these documents which have been sent out. For example you may have received them but misplaced them. Or it may be that, up until recently, you have engaged a solicitor and your solicitor has these documents but you do not (if you engage a solicitor the documents received from the other party and the court would normally be sent only to your solicitor because your solicitor’s address will have been on the court file as your “address for service” and even if your solicitor has sent you documents for signature you might have sent them back after signature without keeping a copy). 

It is also possible that although you have all the pages of all the documents they have becomes separated - perhaps because you did not realise the significance of them being bound together - and it is not clear what goes with what. For example, a witness statement or statement of case might refer to certain documents saying "copies of these documents are attached". If you have detached the documents, although you still have them, it then becomes unclear which out of all the documents you have are the ones being referred to in the statement of case (a statement of case will not attach all documents but only certain key ones so knowing precisely what document was attached is crucial) so in this case you need to obtain a fresh copy of the complete statement of case with attachments.   



Whatever the reason why you do not currently have all these documents, you will need to obtain copies. Depending how urgent it is, you may be able to obtain copies from a variety of sources as follows:-

  • You can obtain documents from the court file for your case. If the case file is kept electronically the court office will give you online access. If the case file is a paper file you can visit the court office and ask to look at, and take copies of, documents in the file. You should be able to do this at any time the office is open without making an appointment though some smaller court offices operate an appointment-only system. Copies of some documents in a case file can be provided to any member of the public but some other documents are only provided to parties in the case. The easiest thing to do is to take along a driving licence or other proof of identity to prove to the court staff that you are a party in the case so that they do not have to worry about which documents you are allowed to see. You may find that they are willing to let you actually browse through the case file and only charge you for documents that you want copies of. Or they may only be willing to give you copies of what you ask for and not let you browse. For pages which contain colour photographs or colour-coded maps or diagrams, make sure that you get colour copies. When you have obtained photocopies of the documents you need you can scan them in as PDFs and provide them to your barrister. Of course you can only get from the case file copies of those documents which have to be filed at the court – as explained above some documents are just sent between the parties and not filed at the court office.

  • If the other side is represented by solicitors you can ask them to send you PDF copies of the documents you need. They should have copies of all documents sent to them, or they have sent to you, or which the court has sent out. There is not generally any legal rule which requires them to send you further copies of documents – they could take the view that they have sent you (or your solicitor if you had previously engaged a solicitor) documents at the time and they are not obliged to send you further copies. But generally the courts take a dim view of parties who act like this, certainly if they are only being asked for copies of a small number of documents, and if the other side has engaged solicitors you should find that they are willing to send you copies of what you ask for. Of course you do need to be specific about what you are asking for and not just ask for everything – unless, of course, the other side/their solicitors have everything so well organised on computer as PDFs anyway that they actually find it easier to just press a button and send you all documents.

  • If you have previously engaged solicitors then you can get copies of documents from them. How quickly they respond to your request for copies of documents is another matter. Some solicitors may quite understand that you no longer want to engage them because you cannot afford to (if that is your reason) and will do all they reasonably can to promptly give you the documents you need so that your case has a fair wind. Other solicitors may be less obliging – it is unlikely they will refuse outright to provide you with copies (unless there is an unpaid bill and they want to use that as a lever to try to get you to pay when you may be querying their bill) but they may drag their heels saying that existing (rather than former) clients are their priority. 


Disclaimer

This information page is designed to be used only by clients of John Antell who have entered into an agreement for the provision of legal services. The information in it is necessarily of a general nature and is intended to be used only in conjunction with specific advice to the individual client about the individual case. This information page should not be used by, or relied on, by anyone else.

The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.


This page was lasted updated in May 2017 Disclaimer