The trial is the medium through which the Court considers the evidence from both sides of the claim. Ordinarily, witnesses will attend voluntarily in order to be cross examined on their evidence. If it looks like there will be difficulties in having a witness attend the trial then a witness summons can be sought. If a witness summons is granted by the Court then the party seeking the witnesses’ attendance must serve the summons 7 days before they are due to give evidence. If the witness then fails to attend then the they can be fined or imprisoned.
Before a trial date, the parties would have completed and exchanged pre-trial checklists to make sure that both parties are ready for the hearing. The Court may also order a pre-trial review hearing to take place so the Court can consider any outstanding matters of case preparation.
A trial bundle will have to be prepared, containing all of the documents that the Judge will need to decide a case. It will be indexed and paginated for ease of reference.
In practice, each Court or tribunal is likely to have specific requirements for trial bundles, so it is worth checking whether any specific rules apply to the tribunal in which you are being heard.
In the event that the case does not settle, then it will have to proceed to trial. The structure of a normal trial will proceed as follows:
Preliminary issues: If there are any matters of law or practicalities with the trial that need to be resolved then the parties can address the Court on these at the outset of the trial.
Opening speeches by both counsel – these may set out the ‘matters in issue’ between the parties and why, on the evidence, the case should be decided for a particular side.
Examination in chief – in civil proceedings, the witness statement will normally stand as witnesses’ evidence in chief. This means that each witness will simply be brought to the stand and ask to swear their witness statement as evidence. If the party wishes to ask further questions during examination in chief then they will need to seek permission from the Judge.
Cross Examination – this is where the party who challenges the witness is able to put questions. Questions in cross examination, rather like in criminal proceedings, can be leading. They are designed to put a proposition to the witness which may undermine their evidence or their credibility.
Re-Examination – the witness can, if necessary, be re-examined by the party who are relying on their evidence.
Closing speeches – After the evidence has been given then both parties can give closing speeches. These will summarise to the Judge why they say their case has been proven.
Judgment – The Judge will then give his decision. He or she could give that judgment straight away or may wait and deliver the judgment at a later date. The judgment will bring the main proceedings to a conclusion.
There is no right to appeal. Either party seeking to appeal the decision of the Judge must proceed under Part 52.
Part 52.6 states that:
(1) Except where rule 52.7 applies, permission to appeal may be given only where—
(a) the court considers that the appeal would have a real prospect of success; or
(b) there is some other compelling reason for the appeal to be heard.
In practice, the request to appeal will be made at the end of the trial and the Judge will decide whether or not to allow permission. If the request is unsuccessful then an request can be made to the Court of Appeal. Part 52.7 states:
(2) The Court of Appeal will not give permission unless it considers that—
(a) the appeal would—
(i) have a real prospect of success; and
(ii) raise an important point of principle or practice; or
(b) there is some other compelling reason for the Court of Appeal to hear it.
The party seeking to appeal has 21 days to appeal against a decision of the County Court or High Court and 28 days to appeal from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.
The destination of an appeal will normally be in the next Court up.
If it is a decision of a District Judge in the County Court then an appeal is made to the Circuit Judge of the County Court.
If it is a decision of the Master or District Judge of the High Court then the appeal is made to a High Court Judge.
If the decision is of a circuit Judge then the appeal is made to a High Court Judge.
If the decision is of a High Court Judge then the appeal is to the Court of Appeal.
A leapfrog appeal is where a case is heard by a higher Court than would be usual. For example, cases which would normally take place in the County Court or High Court jump over these into the Court of Appeal. Permission can be granted for a leapfrog appeal to the Court of Appeal where the case raises an important point of principle or practice or where there is some other compelling reason why the Court should hear it. It is also possible for cases to leapfrog directly from the High Court to the Supreme Court. This will only arise where the case involves a point of law of general public importance.
There are limited grounds on which a party can seek to appeal a decision. A party seeking to appeal will have to demonstrate that the decision of the lower court was (1) wrong or (2) unjust because of a serious procedural irregularity in the lower Court.