If you are going to start Court proceedings, one of the first questions is which Court you should be starting them in. There are many types of Courts in this country, and the system can seem a bit of a maze for the uninitiated.
Criminal proceedings take place in the magistrates Court, Crown court or (for the most serious crimes) the Old Bailey. Those are the courts which are most often shown on TV or in films because of the dramatic nature of criminal proceedings.
Civil cases take place in the County Court or the High Court. The choice of Court will depend on a number of factors, including value and complexity of the case. The High Court is split into three sections:
- The Family Division - dealing with divorces, financial provision after divorce and child care arrangements;
- The Queen's Bench Division - dealing with debt collection, breach of contract, personal injury and medical negligence cases amongst others;
- The Chancery Division - dealing with claims to do with property, the estates of those who have died and trusts amongst others.
There are other highly specialist courts, such as the Technology and Construction Court and the Companies Court.
Most of the cases which I deal with - those concerning the estate of someone who has died, or the ownership of a property - are dealt with by the County Court or the Chancery Division of the High Court. Unfortunately, both Courts are overworked and underfunded, which can lead to long delays for hearings (currently there is a wait of approximately 9 months for a 1 day hearing in the Chancery Division), and sometimes problems with documents which are lost, telephones which go unanswered and a long wait for orders to be produced following hearings.
We have a single unified County Court, which deals with the lower value or less complex cases. There are County Court hearing centres around the country, so you should be able to attend a Court which is reasonably convenient (traditionally you have to attend the Court closest to the Defendant). The County Court will deal with claims involving property and estates worth up to £350,000 or claims for damages worth up to £100,000. There are a small number of County Courts which have specialist Chancery Judges who are trained and experienced at dealing with the type of work undertaken by the Chancery Division - including the County Court at Central London which is based in the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.
Cases which are worth more than this should be started in the Chancery Division of the High Court, based in the Rolls Building on Fetter Lane. There are some specialist applications (such as applications to vary trusts) which have to be heard in the High Court, and you should seek advice before starting highly specialist proceedings.
If claims are started in the wrong court, they can be transferred. If in doubt, take advice from a solicitor before starting your claim.