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A Step-by-Step Guide to the Litigation Process

Court proceedings

The litigation process is a form of dispute resolution that involves presenting your case in court and a ruling being issued.

This ruling is final, subject to appeals, which means that litigation can be an effective way to achieve a resolution. However, litigation can also be costly and complex, which is why it’s important to fully understand the process.

What Is the Litigation Process?

Litigation is the term used when a claimant decides to take a case to court. If you have a valid claim and you have been unable to resolve it with the other party or parties involved, you may want to commence court proceedings in order to obtain a ruling on the matter.

The process of litigation is governed by the Civil Procedure Rules 1998, which sets out specific requirements regarding document submissions, time limits, etc. Due to this, you’ll need to be prepared to adhere to the schedules and regulations set out by these Rules if you take a claim to trial.

What Are the Stages of the Litigation Process?

To get a better understanding of how litigation works and what to expect if you proceed with a claim, take a look at the stages involved:

  1. Pre-action
  2. Issuing a claim at court
  3. Directions to trial
  4. Going to trial
  5. Appeals
  6. Judgement
  7. Assessment of Costs


The ‘pre-action’ stage technically occurs before litigation starts but it is a critical part of the process. A claimant is generally expected to send a document, known as a ‘letter before claim’ to the person or people you are in dispute with (the potential defendant(s)). 

Generally, a letter before claim should outline the dispute, specify a remedy sought and list key documents that are relevant to the claim. In addition to this, it’s usually advisable to propose an alternative form of dispute resolution (ADR). Using ADR, such as mediation or arbitration, can help the parties avoid litigation and may provide a faster and cheaper route to a resolution. 

The recipient is then given a reasonable amount of time to respond, which is typically no longer than 30 days. Ideally, the potential defendant(s) will agree to the requested remedy and a settlement can be agreed. If a settlement negotiation is not possible, however, you may want to issue a claim at court.

Issuing a Claim at Court

To issue a claim, a party must file several documents with the court and serve them on the defendant(s), such as:

  • Claim form – details of the parties and outline of claim
  • Statement of case – full details of the claim

The defendant(s) must then respond in accordance with The Civil Procedure Rules 1998. A defendant may argue that there is no case to respond to, that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the claim, or provide another technical reason that the claim should be disallowed. Alternatively, they may offer a defence to the claim, while accepting that the claim can be brought. 

Following this, the claimant may choose to submit a ‘reply to the defence’ to clarify points raised by the defendant. 

Directions to Trial

The ‘directions to trial’ are a matter of case management. Colloquially, you can think of this as admin undertaken by the court in advance of the trial. For example, the court will propose to assign the claim to either the small claims, fast or multi-track. Depending on the track proposed, the parties may be required to complete and submit additional documents, such as:

  • A Directions questionnaire
  • Suggested directions

‘Directions’ are the steps to be taken prior to the claim being heard at court, such as the disclosure of evidential documents, requested witness evidence, procedural timetables, etc. Ideally, the parties will agree to directions but, if not, the court can impose them. 

In addition to this, a case management conference or a costs and case management conference may be held for additional procedural planning. 

Going to Trial

‘Going to trial’ refers to your claim being heard at court. Here, a barrister or solicitor advocate will present your case, while the defendant’s legal representative will present their defence or counterclaim. 

Depending on the complexity of the matter, a trial may be heard over several days or weeks and a number of witnesses may be called. 

However, before the case is heard at trial, there may be additional pre-trial reviews and preparatory work to be completed. For example, your solicitor will prepare trial bundles to ensure all documents are available in the appropriate format and that a brief ‘skeleton argument’ is available for the judge to review.  


Once the trial has concluded, the judge will issue his or her judgment. This is the ruling or ‘order’ that they make having heard both sides of the claim and reviewed the evidence that has been submitted. In some cases, a judge may give their judgment immediately after the trial but, in more complex matters, it can take days or weeks for the ruling to be issued.


Although a judgment can be appealed, an appeal can only be made in specific circumstances, such as if a procedural irregularity has occurred. If an appeal is made, the order given at the judgment stage may be paused or ‘stayed’ until the appeal is heard. 

Assessment of Costs

Generally, the successful party is able to claim a proportion of their legal costs from the unsuccessful party but a formal assessment of costs must be made. Prior to this, each party must submit a ‘Bill of Costs’ outlining the legal costs incurred. 

In some instances, the assessment of costs will take place immediately following the trial and judgment but, in others, it may be necessary to schedule a separate hearing. 

Navigating the Litigation Process

As you can see, there are many stages involved in litigation and it isn’t always straightforward. In addition to the steps outlined above, additional processes, such as interim hearings or settlement offers, can be made while litigation is ongoing. 

Despite its complexities, litigation is an effective way to resolve civil disputes and our experienced dispute resolution team is on hand to provide the assistance and representation you need throughout the process. 

To find out more or to discuss your claim in more detail, contact us on 01276 680000 or scroll down to send us a message.

Heald Nickinson – a wealth of experience, an unsurpassed level of care.

If you wish to discuss any aspect of a corporate matter, please telephone 01276 680000 and ask for Tony Struve or Julie Shannon. Alternatively, please email

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