Law guide: Complaints and disputes

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The fast track and the multi track

The fast track and the multi track

This guidance tells you about the sort of cases that are likely to be allocated to the fast track and the multi-track, and about how cases will be handled in those tracks.

Allocation to fast track

Completing the allocation questionnaire

The judge will expect you and the defendant, or the defendant's solicitor, to cooperate with each other when you complete allocation questionnaires. The idea is that, so far as possible, you each know, or can agree, how you will answer the questions in it. You may, therefore, be contacted by the defendant, or the defendant's solicitor, after the questionnaires have been sent out by the court. If you are not, you should make the necessary contact yourself, since you must return the questionnaire to the court within 14 days of receiving it. If the defendant is acting without a solicitor, and will not cooperate, you should not let this delay your own completion of the questionnaire, and its return to the court.

What sort of things would I be expected to agree with the defendant?

You might be expected to have agreed:

  • Which was the most appropriate track for your case
  • How long you think the trial will take
  • If possible, how long you expect it to take to prepare your case for trial, and the time and manner in which you should exchange your evidence
  • If you want to use expert evidence, which expert, and whether you can both use the same one, as the court will usually expect this

You should note that if your case is one that would normally be allocated to the fast track, you can, if the defendant, or the defendant's solicitor agrees, ask that your claim be dealt with in the small claims track. In the small claims track, procedures are less formal. However, if you both agree, and the judge approves, you should note that the winning party will usually be able to recover some of their costs, including any solicitor's costs, from the losing party. Approval of the agreement to use the small claims track will only be given if the judge feels that your case can be dealt with justly. The small claims track will tell you more about it.

You should also note that you should not normally seek an expert's advice until the judge has given permission to use expert evidence. If you do, and the judge does not give permission, you will have to pay all of the expert's costs yourself.

If I think I may be able to settle the case without a trial, what can I do?

If you and the defendant agree, you can use the allocation questionnaire to ask the judge to allow the proceedings to be 'stayed' (halted) for one month while you attempt to settle your dispute. You can do this by either talking to the defendant or asking another person to help. This person may be an expert, mediator or an arbitrator.

If the judge approves your request, the proceedings will be stayed for a period of one month. You will receive an order setting out the date until which the claim is stayed. The order will tell you what you must do at the end of the stay, for example:

  • Notify the court that the matter is settled
  • Request an extension of the stay period
  • Tell the court that no settlement has been reached (so that the process of allocation to track can begin)

An extension to a stay will generally be no more than one month and you must explain, when you apply, who is helping with your attempt to settle and why you need further time.

What does the judge take into account when deciding whether a claim should be allocated to the fast track?

As well as your views, and those of the defendant, the judge will take into account:

  • The amount in dispute - this would normally be more than £10,000 but not more than £25,000 for allocation to the fast track
  • Timetable and evidence needed - the judge will bear in mind that cases allocated to the fast track will generally require only limited 'disclosure', a period of no more than around 30 weeks to prepare for the trial, written expert evidence only, if it is needed at all, and a trial lasting no more than one day (five hours).

If the judge feels that your claim could not be dealt with justly in the fast track, for example, because of the amount in dispute is more than £25,000, it requires more disclosure than the fast track allows and requires oral expert evidence at trial, your claim may be allocated to the multi-track.

What is the amount in dispute?

The 'amount in dispute' is whatever part of your claim the defendant disputes. This could be the whole of your claim, or only part of it. Any part of your claim which is not disputed, the defendant is said to have 'admitted liability for', that is, is not disputed.

What is disclosure?

Disclosure means telling the defendant about any documents you have, or have had, in your possession, or which you are required by practice direction to disclose.

A practice direction is a document which contains instructions which support rules of court. The practice direction supporting Part 31 of the Civil Procedure Rules deals with disclosure. Court staff will be able to show you a copy.

The documents you should disclose are those which:

  • Support your claim
  • Undermine or oppose your claim
  • Those which support the defendant's case

You must make a reasonable search for these documents. What is 'reasonable' depends on, for example:

  • The number of documents involved, and the nature and complexity of your claim
  • The difficulty or expense involved in retrieving the documents
  • The relevance of the documents to the claim

How do I disclose the documents?

You can use Form N265 (list of documents: standard disclosure). This form is also available free from the court office. It contains notes for guidance which will help you complete it. It is important that you complete the form properly by listing the documents:

  • You have and will let the defendant see ('inspect')
  • You have but object to the defendant seeing
  • You once had but do not have any longer

If you object to the defendant inspecting any document, you will have to say why.

Once you have completed Form N265, you should send a copy to the defendant ('serve it') by the date given in the court's directions. The defendant must also prepare a list and send it to you within the same timescale.

What is inspection?

Inspection is when you make a request to look at the documents included in the defendant's list. This enables you to know more about the defendant's defence. You must make a written request to inspect any documents in the defendant's list. The defendant must allow you to inspect the documents not more than seven days after receiving your request. You can ask the defendant for copies, for which you must pay the copying charges. You must allow the defendant to inspect and request copies of your documents in the same way.

If you have not disclosed or allowed inspection of a document, you may not be allowed to use it to support your case unless the court gives permission.

Will the judge always make a decision about allocation just on the information on the court file and in the allocation questionnaires?

No, not always. The judge may decide that more information is needed before a decision can be made. If this is the case, the judge may either:

  • Ask for more information or
  • Decide to hold an allocation hearing

If the judge decides more information is needed, you will be sent an order for it in Form N156 (order for further information (allocation)). The form will tell you what additional information the judge has asked for and will tell you the date by which it must be delivered to the court ('filed') and a copy sent to the defendant. If the defendant is asked to provide further information, a copy of it must be sent to you. If the judge decides to hold an allocation hearing, you will be sent a notice. The notice will tell you the time, date and place of the hearing.

How will I know which track my claim has been allocated to?

The court will send you a notice of allocation. You will be sent Form N154 if your case has been allocated to the fast track; Form N155 if your claim has been allocated to the multi-track.

Fast track

If my case is allocated to the fast track, what else will the Form N154 tell me?

The notice will usually tell you:

  • What else you have to do to prepare for the trial, called 'directions'
  • The date by which you must complete and return to the court a Form N170 (listing questionnaire (Pre-trial checklist))
  • A period of time, of no more than three weeks, during which the date of the trial of your claim will be given

The maximum time allowed for a fast track trial will be one day (five hours).

If the judge has allocated the claim to a track which is not the track which you and the defendant suggested, the notice will tell you the judge's reasons for making that decision.

What are the directions likely to be for the fast track?

It is for the judge to decide what directions are relevant for your claim, and these may change from case to case. However, the standard directions and a typical timetable for a fast track case might be for:

  • Disclosure (followed by inspection) - 4 weeks after allocation
  • Exchange of witness statements - 10 weeks
  • Exchange of expert reports (where experts have been allowed) - 14 weeks
  • Court to send out listing questionnaires - 20 weeks
  • Return listing questionnaires - 22 weeks
  • Trial - around 30 weeks

All of the times run from the date that you receive the Form N154. The dates for carrying out the various directions will be given as calendar dates, e.g. 1 June. You and the defendant can agree to extend the times for exchanging evidence. But you must not extend them so as to affect the date for the return of the listing questionnaire or the date of the trial period.

You should note that there is no standard procedure for multi-track cases. Each claim will be case managed according to its individual need. The judge may use standard directions, case management conferences or a pre-trial review, or a combination of these. The content of Form N155 may therefore vary from case to case. The purpose of case management conferences and pre-trial reviews is explained below. However, directions are likely to include an order for disclosure and inspection, a date for filing a listing questionnaire and, at the earliest time possible, will indicate the period (of one week) during which the trial will begin.

What is a case management conference?

A case management conference is an informal meeting of all the parties and the judge to review the progress of a case. If the judge decides to hold a case management conference, you will be told when and where to attend. Matters which may be considered at a case management conference include:

  • Reviewing the steps which you and the defendant have taken to prepare the case
  • Making sure that you and the defendant have followed, or are following, any directions which the judge has given
  • Giving any other directions to ensure you and the defendant understand each other's case
  • Noting any agreement between you and the defendant on any part of the case
  • Setting a timetable for any other steps which the judge considers necessary
  • Monitoring costs

Will the court send me a listing questionnaire?

Yes. The court will send you Form N170 (listing questionnaire) on the date given in directions. You will be sent the questionnaire, together with Form N171 (notice of date for return of listing questionnaire). Form N171 will tell you the date by which the questionnaire must be returned to the court.

You must return the completed questionnaire to the court no later than the date given on it and the accompanying notice, together with the appropriate fee. Court staff can tell you what the fee is. You should at the same time send a copy of the questionnaire to the defendant. As with the allocation questionnaire, you should cooperate with the defendant in completing the form. But you should not allow this, or any refusal to cooperate, delay your completion of the form and its return to the court.

What will the court do if I do not return the listing questionnaire?

The court can apply a 'sanction'. A sanction is a penalty for failing to do what the court has ordered you to do. The court will usually order any party who has not returned their listing questionnaire to file it with the court within three days of receiving the court's order. If they do not, the judge may strike out their statement of case (claim, defence or counterclaim) so that it can no longer be relied on in the proceedings.

If one party files a listing questionnaire but the other does not, the judge may decide to list the case for trial on the information contained in the one returned.

If the judge decides to hold a listing hearing, you will be sent a notice in Form N153 (notice of listing hearing). The notice will tell you the date, time and place of the hearing.

What might the judge decide when listing questionnaires are filed, or there is a listing hearing?

The judge may:

  • Confirm that all the previous directions given have been complied with
  • Decide whether or not any further directions are necessary to prepare your case for trial
  • Decide whether or not to give permission, if you have been allowed to use expert evidence, for your expert to give oral evidence at the trial
  • Confirm how long is required for the trial
  • Set a timetable for the trial itself
  • Give directions about the filing of any trial bundle (i.e. a bundle of information and evidence which you provide for the court), the documents it should contain, the order and manner in which they should be presented, for example, how they should be numbered and in what order

In the case of a multi-track case, the judge will also decide whether or not to hold a pre-trial review.

The court will send you an order setting out any directions the judge gives. Unless you have already been given a fixed date for your trial, the order will not usually tell you the date your trial will start. If your case is allocated to the fast track, notice of the trial date will be sent to you, not later than 21 days before the trial is due to start, or, in the case of a multi-track case, some time after any pre-trial review.

The notice will be in Form N172 (notice of trial date). You should read it carefully, since the trial may be taking place at a different court to the one where your claim was issued, or where it has been case managed.

A move to another court may be necessary to ensure that your case comes on for trial within the timetable set for it. Your trial may be heard by either a circuit judge or a district judge if it is a fast track case, and by a circuit judge or a high court judge if it is a multi-track case.

What is a pre-trial review?

A pre-trial review will usually take place after the listing questionnaires have been filed. The purpose of the pre-trial review is to decide:

  • A timetable for the trial itself
  • Who will give evidence at the trial and in what order
  • The content of the 'trial bundle' (all the papers required for the trial) and the date by which it has to be 'lodged' (delivered) at the court
  • The 'trial estimate' (time to be allowed for the trial)

What will happen after the trial?

A member of the court's staff will send you and the defendant an order (judgment). It will set out the judge's decision and any order for costs that was made. If the judgment was for an amount of money, the order will tell the person liable to pay, who to pay, where to pay and when to pay it.

If the defendant has been ordered to pay you a sum of money, but does not pay, you should remember that the court will not take any action unless you ask it to. This is called 'enforcing your judgment'. You may have to pay a fee for this.

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