General Introduction: The Civil Procedure Rules and Structure of the Civil Courts in England & Wales

In England and Wales, civil procedure is governed by a unified body of rules called the Civil Procedure Rules (or ‘CPR’). The Civil Procedure Rules govern civil procedure in the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice, and County Courts, in relation to civil proceedings. The CPR have applied to all civil proceedings commenced in England and Wales after 26th April 1999.

Three courts in England & Wales have jurisdiction to hear civil cases:

· the High Court of Justice (‘High Court’)

· the County Court

· the Magistrates’ Court

In addition to these courts, the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) exercises an appellate jurisdiction in relation to civil matters. The Supreme Court of Justice of the United Kingdom is the highest appeal court in the United Kingdom.

The jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court in civil matters is very limited. This includes non-payment of local taxes (Council Tax), licensing matters, and some types of family proceedings. Our main focus will be on the High Court and County Court.

Unlike the High Court, which is a ‘Senior Court’, the County Court (like the Magistrates’ Court) is a subordinate court. The County Court is a single, civil court for England and Wales which has unlimited financial jurisdiction.

The High Court consists of three divisions:

· the Queen’s Bench Division

· the Chancery Division

· the Family Division

Within the Queen’s Bench Division, there are some specialised divisions, including:

· the Commercial Court

· the Technology and Construction Court

· the Admiralty Court

The Chancery Division has a jurisdiction which includes:

· Business

· Company and Insolvency

· Competition

· Financial

· Intellectual Property

· Taxation

· Trusts

· Wills and Probate

After 2017, the newly-formed Business and Property Courts within the High Court have administered these specialist jurisdictions in the Queen’s Bench and Chancery Divisions.

As we progress, we will explore in which court, at the outset of a legal action, proceedings should be commenced and the provisions in the CPR which relate to this.

The CPR [1], which is regularly updated, is divided into 89 ‘Parts’. Each of these Parts contains Rules and many of the Parts are supplemented by ‘Practice Directions’. As we will see in upcoming posts, the CPR deals with a wide range of procedural issues, including:

· The overriding objective of the Civil Procedure Rules

· The duties of the court and parties in civil proceedings

· Pre-action Conduct and Protocols

· Commencement of Proceedings, including service of claim forms

· Parties

· Case management, sanctions, and striking out

· Disclosure of documents

· Interim Applications

· Evidence

· Trial

· Judgments

· Costs

In the next post in this series, we will look at the allocation of business between the High Court and County Courts.

Check Your Understanding:

Find a word or phrase in the text which means:

  1. (especially of a court) concerned with or dealing with applications for decisions to be reversed

  2. temporary and intended to be used or accepted until something permanent exists

  3. the official proving of a will

  4. a state of financial distress in which a person or business is unable to pay their debts

  5. threatened penalties for disobeying a law or rule:

(c) Cambridge Legal English 2021

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