What administrative work is necessary in a court or tribunal case?

You can engage a barrister to represent you in court or tribunal hearings, and to draft the legal documents needed for a case but in litigation there are some things you have to do.

Filing formal Documents

In centuries gone by anybody starting a court case, or responding to a court case, had to first attend a short hearing before a judge. At that hearing they would be represented by a barrister to "plead" their case in legal terms - i.e. formally state the legal points that their claim, or defence, was based on, but they themselves had to be physically present as well (albeit in some cases they could send someone with power of attorney in their place) to confirm that they were taking the formal step of starting a claim, or admitting or defending a claim.

These days the formal pre-trial steps in a tribunal or court case, such as initial "pleadings" and declaring the relevant documents which you have, are taken by "filing" formal documents at the court/tribunal office rather than by making a physical appearance before a judge, though some of the modern terminology still reflects the former system in that, for example, when a defendant, on receipt of a Claim Form, files an Acknowledgement of Service form, it is still sometimes called "entering an appearance". Because of the importance of the formal steps in litigation (such as starting the case, filing a Defence, or making an Application for an interim court order after the case has started) these steps are required to be done by you personally and there are certain rules about how they have to be done - for example whether you have to use a court/tribunal computer system or whether you can file paper documents or send them to the court/tribunal office by email.

Another reason why you have to file documents yourself is that many documents can be "signed" just with a printed (rather than handwritten) signature so it is by your act in filing the document that you acknowledge that your printed name is to be regarded as your signature. 

The rules about how formal documents have to be filed are designed to reduce the scope for disputes about whether and when a document was filed. A document may have to be filed by a deadline so certainty is important. You can ask your barrister to advise you about the rules which apply and, of course, to draft the formal documents themselves, but you have to do the formal act of delivering (or the online equivalent where applicable) yourself. In the case of delivering formal documents in paper form (where permitted) this does not mean that you have to literally put a formal document through a letterbox with your own hands. You can use the post or arrange for a courier to deliver for you, but whatever means of delivery you use, you have to initiate it and take responsibility for it.

Visiting the Court/Tribunal Office

In theory you don't have to visit the court office because you can use post (where permitted) or electronic systems/communication (where permitted) but, as explained below, there are circumstances where a visit to the court office is to be strongly recommended. 

After court proceedings have started, some of the formal legal documents you send to other parties just need to be signed by you. But when you start court proceedings you have to sign the Claim Form and present it to the court office to be stamped with the court seal because the copy to be sent to the other party must have the court seal on it. When the Claim Form is served on (i.e. sent to) the other party that starts a process which could, if the other side does not respond in time, result in you winning by default, so the Claim Form has to have the court seal so that the recipient knows it has the authority of the court behind it (for the same reason court orders and notices of hearings always have the court seal on them). Because of this requirement to get some documents stamped before use, it is often easier to visit the court office rather than try to do everything remotely.

Traditionally when you start court proceedings, you take a number of identical copies of the Claim Form and other formal documents required (which will usually have been drafted by a barrister) to the court office and hand them over the counter and ask for them to be "issued". The member of court staff allocates a reference number for the case, enters brief details in a register, and stamps all copies of the documents with the court seal. The court office retains a number of the stamped copies (traditionally two copies) and returns the rest of the copies to you so that you have a copy to keep plus sufficient copies to serve on other parties.

That is the traditional system, but nowadays there is considerable variety among court offices as to how proceedings are issued, and procedures are constantly changing as various pilot schemes (designed to test whether a new procedure is more efficient) are run at particular offices over particular periods. A barrister can draft the formal documents and provide some advice on the procedure for asking for them to be issued by the court office but you need to take responsibility for following through the particular steps which a particular court office may require (including serving documents once issued and filing a certificate of service where required). The precise details of the administrative system used by a particular court office will vary and so it is nearly always advisable for you to personally visit the court office with the formal documents to start proceedings. The advantage of personally visiting the court office is that the office staff will be able to advise on the procedure. Court office staff, not being lawyers, cannot provide legal advice, but, for example, they can tell you what fee is payable upon issue of a particular type of claim, how many copies of the documents the offices needs for itself, whether you can simply provide paper copies or whether you need to log on to a computer system and type in some details from the documents (such as party names and addresses, type of claim), etc. Visiting the court/tribunal office means that you can deal with the requirements there and then, whereas if you had used the post and some requirement was not met (e.g. cheque for wrong amount, or use of computer system - rather than posting paper - compulsory) you might not find that out for several days and a deadline might be missed. 

In tribunal (rather than court) proceedings you may not need to visit an office but you need to be prepared to deal with whatever requirements the tribunal office has regarding number of copies, method of payment of any fee, use of computer systems, etc.

In a minority of cases it is necessary to ask the court for an interim injunction, generally to preserve the status quo, until the matter in dispute is finally decided at trial - e.g. to prevent someone demolishing a wall before the court has decided at trial who the wall belongs to. As well making sure that the right administrative procedures are followed as required by the particular court office (number of copies of paper documents - whether paper can be used or computer system available/compulsory) a visit to the court office is important when an application is made to ensure that the Application hearing is arranged for the best date.    

Unless an application is ultra-urgent, the rules typically require the Application Notice (which sets out the order you are seeking and why, supported by a witness statement) and sealed notification of the hearing date, to be served on the other party not less than three clear days before the date set for the hearing of the Application. So although you will want the hearing to be as soon as possible you do not want it to be so soon that you are unable to serve the Application Notice/notice of hearing in time (bearing in mind that if you serve by post it may, under the rules of the particular court, be counted as not received until the second day after posting, and if it is not served in time the court may refuse to grant the Application at the hearing because insufficient notice was given to the other party). You cannot insist on the hearing taking place on a particular day because the court has to arrange hearings taking account of the availability of judges and the number and urgency of other applications, but by visiting the court office you can ensure that a hearing is fixed for an appropriate day (among those available) which is not too far away but which also is not so soon that you cannot serve the Application Notice/notice of hearing by whatever means you will be serving it, in time.

Whilst interim injunctions can be granted at a number of court centres, in order for the application for an interim injunction to be heard quickly it is often advisable for the application to be issued in the High Court in London so it may be necessary to travel to the Royal Courts of Justice in London (either the traditional building in the Strand or the new Rolls Building in Fetter Lane, depending on the type of case)

When visiting the court office you should do so in the morning, so that there is time to deal with anything which arises (many court offices close early in the afternoon or have  restricted services after a certain time), take a phone/tablet/laptop containing the documents, and be prepared for any queries or requirements the office may have. For example:

  • If the office ask for an additional paper copy of a document, you need to be able to provide it by, for example, having taken an extra paper copy with you just in case, or by having the document on your phone or tablet ready to email to a reprographics shop in the vicinity who can print an extra copy for you.
  • If the office ask you to enter details in a computer system, you need to have a laptop or tablet, with an internet connection available, to do this. Some offices may provide computers for public use but it is best not to rely on this because they may be in use by other people. Also if you are required not just to type details into the computer system but to upload documents it is easier to use your own tablet/laptop so that you do not have to work out how to get documents onto the public computer.
  • Some offices do not provide you with stamped documents in paper form. Rather the stamp is applied electronically and then you have to log on to the office computer system and print out the stamped document so that you can serve it. In this case you will need a tablet/laptop with an internet connection so that you can email the stamped document to a reprographics shop in the vicinity to get it printed so that you can serve it as soon as possible.        

Most court/tribunal offices are not in the main shopping areas of a city so you cannot assume that a branch of a well-know chain of reprographics shops (such as Office Outlet or Rymans) will be nearby. Often there are reprographics shops near court/tribunal offices but they are not obvious because most of their customers are regular court users who know where they are. So it is worth researching in advance of your visit so that you know what is available in the vicinity of the court/tribunal office. Or if you have not done this before you visit the court/tribunal office you could ask office staff who may know. If you are visiting the Royal Courts of Justice, Legastat is nearby.

Service of formal Documents

The rules of the particular court/tribunal may require that any document you send to the other party by post has to be sent by First Class post and, of course, there are rules about what is a valid address to send it to, and about how soon you have to send a document, if using post, in order for it to be counted as arriving by any deadline set by the rules. 

In a legal claim against an individual (rather than, say, a claim against a limited company) the initial document which starts off a legal claim needs to be sent or delivered to a particular address, normally the address that the individual lives at. If there is any doubt that an individual lives at an address, you would need to check that they are living at that address before sending or delivering the document.   

The rules about how formal documents have to be served are designed to reduce the scope for disputes about whether and when a document was served. A party receiving a document may be required to take certain steps within a fixed number of days so certainty about service of documents is important.

Because of the importance of these formal pre-trial steps, the other party, and the court/tribunal office, has to send formal documents (and, indeed, all communications) to you personally - not to a barrister you engage to advise you - so your own address is given in the formal documents you send to the court/tribunal and to the other side (or is entered by you after logging in to the court/tribunal system) and you, of course, need to check your post/emails and scan in/forward by email to your barrister, anything received which you require advice on.

Delivering hearing bundles to the court/tribunal office

A Bundle is an organised collection of documents in a ring binder or lever arch file (or perhaps several lever arch files if it contains a lot of documents). Every page has a page number and the judge and each party at the hearing have identical copies of the Bundle. A Bundle will have an index at the front, listing every document in the Bundle with its page number.

If you engage a barrister to represent you at a hearing then, depending on the scope of the work the barrister has agreed to do, the barrister may assist you in producing the Bundle in PDF form, but you will need to do the work of printing, assembling and delivering copies of the Bundle to the court/tribunal office, and to the other party, in advance of the hearing.

If you only have a slow printer you could use a high street print shop, such as Office Outlet or Rymans, to print the pages so that you can then assemble the bundles and post them, or hand deliver, or courier if time is short.

If you are too close to the deadline to use the post and your case is in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in central London (or in the nearby Rolls Building or in a tribunal in the vicinity) but you do not live in London and personal delivery or using a courier is not practical, there are shops based near the Royal Courts of Justice who will not only print, but also assemble and deliver bundles to the court/tribunal office. If you use such a service in this way it is important to choose a shop which specialises specifically in producing legal bundles as you will not be able to see and check the hard copy bundle before it is delivered, so you need to be certain that the shop is not just a standard high street print shop but a shop which understands features typically found in legal Bundles such as tabs.

Keeping Track of Deadlines   

Throughout the proceedings you will need to keep track of the deadlines the court/tribunal has set and ensure that they are met. Where meeting a deadline is dependent on the work of others, e.g. a barrister or an expert witness, you need to ensure that the barrister or expert witness is requested, in good time, to do the work, and is provided with all information and documents necessary for them to do so. So, to take a simple example, a Reply to Defence document cannot be drafted by a barrister until the Defence document is available, so if you are the Claimant in receipt of a Defence document you would need to scan in the Defence document, as soon as you receive it from the other side, so that the barrister can see it, agree the barrister's fee and check that the barrister can draft the Reply to Defence document in time for you to then sign it and deliver/post it to the other party for it to arrive by the deadline, and file it at the court office by the deadline.

When you ask a barrister to draft any document, you have to provide the barrister with the raw material which the barrister is to base it on. This means that you will need to type up, as a Word document, a chronological account of everything you can remember which is, or might be, relevant to the dispute. This is called a "proof of evidence". You will need to look for documentary evidence - i.e. ordinary documents on paper, on computer/tablet/phone which shed light on where the truth lies in the matter in dispute. Depending what the case is about this might include letters, emails, contracts, deeds, Land Registry documents, invoices, bank statements, purchase orders, photographs and videos. In order to find relevant documents you may need to extend your search outside your home or office. For example if the case is about disputed land and it is important to know who was using the land 20 years ago and what for, whether land was cultivated as a garden by an adjoining house, and fenced in, for example, and over what period, you would need to contact aerial photograph companies, search for old maps, make enquiries to see if the people living there (or their relatives who may have visited and remembered playing in the garden) can be traced, etc. 

You will need to decide at what stages to ask for advice

Loading and Organising Documents

Many of the pre-trial steps involve producing either lists of documentary evidence or full document "bundles". Once you have loaded every relevant document into a document storage system such as Caselines and typed in the title and date of every document, you can then produce lists of documents and document bundles as required automatically.

The court/tribunal will normally order each party, at an early stage, to disclose to the other party what relevant documents it has, and normally a party will be prohibited from using, at trial, any document it fails to disclose, although if a party accidentally leaves a document off its disclosure list but discloses it shortly afterwards (e.g. because a document has been misfiled and turns up later) the court/tribunal will normally exercise its discretion and allow it to be relied on at trial. Sometimes when, shortly before the trial, a bundle of documents for the trial is being prepared ("trial bundle") a party seeks to include in it a document but the other party objects on the grounds that it was never disclosed. You need to ensure both that all relevant documents are disclosed and that you have, ready to hand, the means of proving what you disclosed and when and what the other party disclosed and when, in case a dispute arises about this. 

Arranging for Expert Witnesses   

Finally, if an expert witness (such as a surveyor) is needed, you have to find a suitable expert and agree their fees. You can ask a barrister to draft an instruction letter but you have to sign it and send it to the expert in your own name, and you have to liaise with the expert to ensure that his report is produced in time for you to deliver it to the other parties by any court/tribunal ordered deadline. 


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This page was lasted updated in January 2017          Disclaimer