Unlike criminal cases where the crown prosecutes individuals, civil cases are held between individuals, businesses and organisations. The parties are referred to as:

  • the claimant (the party trying to enforce a legal right or seek a legal remedy)
  • the defendant (the party responding to the claimant’s claim)

Most civil disputes do not end up in court. Even those that do may not go all the way to a full trial.

The civil courts

Civil cases are mainly dealt with in the County Court. But higher value or more complex cases may begin in the High Court. They are mostly held in open court. This means that the public may attend.

County Court 

All County Court centres deal with:

  • contract
  • tort
  • land recovery cases.

Some can also deal with:

  • bankruptcy and insolvency matters
  • wills and trusts up to a value of £30,000
  • matters under the Equality Act 2010.

Parties may also agree to have other matters heard in a County Court centre. This could be things like defamation claims

High Court

The High Court is where high value and complex civil claims are heard. The High Court also has the power to hear appeals from most lower courts and tribunals.

The High Court is divided into three divisions:

  • The King’s Bench Division. This deals with contract and tort claims
  • The Chancery Division. This deals with a range of specialist civil claims including insolvency, professional negligence and intellectual property claims
  • The Family Division. This deals with a limited number of family law disputes. It also deals with appeals from the Family Court

Preparing for a court appearance

You should be sent a letter confirming the date, time and court location that you are due to attend. The information on this letter is important. You should read it before you go to court.

The lawyers working on the case you are appearing in will explain what you should expect to happen on the day. They will explain what, if anything, you should prepare for in advance.

For general information on preparing to attend court see our I’m due in court page.

What happens in a civil court

Almost all civil cases are tried without a jury. The main exception is defamation trials. Instead of a jury, a judge will decide on the case. They will decide based on the agreed or established facts and applying the relevant law to those facts.

There may be a disagreement about what the facts are and how the relevant law applies. The judge will decide on both these points. The judge will set out the reasons for their decision in their judgment. The judgment may be delivered right away. In more complex cases, it might be delivered at a later date.

Support available at the civil courts

Court staff can help you with any questions you may have on the day. They cannot give legal advice or talk about the specific facts of your case. But they will be able to help direct you.

If you cannot understand English very well you should tell the court as soon as possible. Preferably ahead of the date of your court appearance. The court can arrange for an interpreter or other support to assist you.

Legal Advice

If you are a party to civil proceedings and want help with your case, you should think about talking to a lawyer. Both solicitors and barristers are regulated lawyers who work in the civil courts. See our Types of lawyers page for more details of regulated lawyers.

Useful terms

Some useful terms: