Civil courts resolve cases involving contract disputes, land issues, non-payment of debt and other matters such as bankruptcy and divorce. Disagreements over amounts smaller than ?3,000 are generally handled via a Small Claims Procedure. Matters such as these are processed without the benefit of a lawyer and, as a rule; decisions are arrived at in a much speedier fashion than in the higher courts. Proceedings in which amounts of more than ?3,000 but less than ?25,000 are being contested are first heard in tribunals or County Courts. There are 226 County Courts available in the United Kingdom. If the sum in question is more than ?25,000 the legal action will be presented in High Court. The judgments found at all levels of the civil court system are subject to appeal.
Civil litigation is initiated by a plaintiff. The plaintiff seeks a finding of liability upon the part of a defendant. The defendant may be a public or private entity. Judgments in civil trials are generally handed down by a judge rather than a jury. The civil litigation process moves ahead at a very slow pace. From initiation to conclusion the course of a civil procedure may span months, even years.
If a litigant feels that a judgment was rendered in error, it may be possible to appeal the decision. However, one should be aware that not all rulings are open to appeal. There must be substantive legal grounds for appeal and the appeal must be filed within a given period of time. Appeals can be expensive and continue for another considerable amount of time. Before embarking upon an appeal it is wise to receive additional legal counsel. Recognizing the right of an independent judiciary to proceed without intervention, personnel in the court system are not allowed to discuss or otherwise appraise the work of the lower courts.
Appeals of County Court judgments and High Court judgments are heard by the Court of Appeal Civil Division. High Court judgments may also be appealed directly to the House of Lords. In a given year several thousand appeals will be decided; additional thousand or so interlocutory appeals may be granted annually. Interlocutory appeals are based on the mechanics of the process not the final judgment.
Appeals which travel from the County Courts and High Courts to the Court of Appeal Civil Division and still are not resolved to the satisfaction of the litigants may be further appealed to the House of Lords. Appeals to the House of Lords are rare. In a normal year, pleadings to the House of Lords number in the handful. While such appeals may be based upon an applicable narrow point of law, petitions which reach the House of Lords on appeal usually turn upon matters of considerable legal weight. The appellate duties of the House of Lords are distinguished from the governmental duties of the body. Superior judges sometimes referred to as Law Lords handle court related issues relegated to the House.
In summary, any private person or public body having appropriate standing in a dispute has the right to commence civil proceedings. If the findings of the litigation are not acceptable, the litigant may pursue an appeal in the appropriate venue be it the Court of Appeal Civil Division or the House of Lords. Appeals must address a point of law and must be filed within a set timeframe. Few appeals reach the Court of Appeal Civil Division and even fewer are heard by the judges of the House of Lords. Civil disputes of any sort can be both capital and time intensive. Appeals of the decisions rendered will require even further expense and may continue for years.