A civil claim is a lawsuit which deals with disagreements among persons. Persons include companies and groups. It includes actions for breach of contract, negligence, trespass and personal injuries. In a civil claim a person is usually seeking monetary compensation for the damage caused to him or her.
Claims for more than $15,000 must be filed in the High Court while claims for less than $15,000 can be heard before a magistrate. This article focuses on claims brought before the High Court. Civil actions in the High Court are governed by the Civil Proceedings Rules (CPR). Matters are usually heard by a single judge.
The person bringing the claim is called the claimant while the person being sued is called the defendant. Before filing a claim, the claimant's attorney must write a letter to the proposed defendant, briefly setting out the facts of the case. This is to allow the parties the chance to save time and money by negotiating and possibly settling the claim without going to court. This letter is known as a pre-action protocol letter.
If there isn't a satisfactory response, the claimant may then file the claim. The claim is started by the filing of a claim form. This is a document that briefly sets out the claim and calls on the defendant to state whether he admits or denies the claim. The claim form must be accompanied by a statement of case in which the claimant details the facts that entitles him to the remedy sought.
The claimant must also include and attach all the relevant documents that he relies on to support the claim. Both the claim form and statement of case must be filed at a High Court office and then served to the defendant. After the defendant has been served, he must file his defence , usually within 28 days. The defence should state his position regarding the claim and set out fully his version of the facts.
If no defence is filed, the court may enter judgment for the claimant. This means that the defendant may be liable to satisfy the claimant's claim without the judge considering the defendant's version of events. Once the claim and defence are filed, a date is set for a case management conference. This is chaired by the judge.
Both parties and their attorneys are present and emphasis is placed on a cooperative effort to see if the issues surrounding the claim can be resolved amicably, and if not, the most efficient and effective means to decide the case. In today's civil litigation system, emphasis is placed on negotiations and attempts to resolve disagreements as amicably as possible without the need for a trial.
It is hoped that this approach will result in less claims going to trial and more resources being available for those issues which require judicial decisions. Where, however, negotiations and attempts at cooperation do not resolve the claim, access to justice and the opportunity to have your disagreement settled by an impartial judge, by bringing a civil claim, is a fundamental human right and forms the bedrock of any democratic society.