What Is A Dispute And How Can We Help?

It is an unfortunate but very real fact of life that sometimes conflict arises whether in the course of our personal or professional lives. Although some conflicts can be resolved with communication and compromise, at times there are some conflicts that exhaust these measures. These can often be very stressful and trying times for most, with most parties to a conflict feeling aggrieved, disgruntled,  anguished and hard done. A time of conflict and dispute can often be a very stressful and worrying time for most, which is why it is imperative that when a conflict arises you are kept informed as to your legal rights and recourse, and advised as to how best to protect your position and interests in question.

Seeking Legal Advice For A Dispute

Whether the conflict arises from a neighbour dispute, a debt matter, a breach of contract, or a shareholder dispute, it is important to seek relevant legal advice early on so as to best deal with the conflict in the most efficient and cost-effective way. It may be that involvement of solicitors at an early stage will help expedite and negotiate an amicable solution between the parties to a dispute. Alternatively, it may be that parties to a dispute may be at a stale-mate in which case the only way to resolve the dispute may be to bring the matter before the Courts and allow the Court to decide.

Issuing a Dispute Case in Court

Depending on the issue at hand, and the nature of the dispute, there are various different intricacies when it comes to issuing a case in the Courts which is why it is important to seek legal advice at an early stage so that the matter can be best managed and a case strategy can be planned in order to ensure the highest probability of success as well as keeping the matter cost efficient. Additionally, before even bringing a case before the Courts, parties are often obliged to follow the Pre-action protocols (PAP), and failure to do so before bringing a case before the Courts can lead to the case being struck out, and/or cost consequences even if the case is ultimately successful. Another reason why seeking early advice from a solicitor when a dispute arises is of the utmost importance.

Broadly speaking, most civil claims brought before the Courts will abide by the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR Rules). In essence, these rules govern the manner and the way by which cases are brought before the Court. From the issuing of a case, time limits, to the addition of expert evidence, to the submission of witness statements and costs budgets all the way to hearing, these rules are a strict framework that aim to allow the parties to a dispute to present their cases to the court fairly and allow the court to deal with the matter in the most equitable and time efficient manner. A litigation solicitor will be fluent and confident in applying these rules to a dispute in the most effective manner and will also be able to strategise and use certain nuances in the law in order to gain a tactical edge in representing your case.

In brief, every case starts out by first being issued in the Courts, often accompanied by a Statement of Case called a ‘Particulars of Claim’. This document sets out the nature of the claim and dispute and explains to the Court and to the other side of the dispute what the Claimant is seeking and why. After the case has been issued by the Court, the Court will then serve it on the Defendant/s to the matter and then they will have a certain amount of time to respond and either admit the Claimant’s claim and make a proposal for settlement, or file a further statement of case often called the ‘Defence’.

In the Defence, the Defendant/s will in essence scrutinise each part of the Claimant’s particulars of claim and either admit, deny or request more information in relation to each point of of the document. They will also set out their own grounds for their position and may even include a counter-claim if they feel they have grounds to do so. The Statements of case can often be long, technical and need to comply with various intricacies codified within the CPR rules therefore a litigation solicitor will be able to construct and draft these documents with the necessary legal flair and accuracy to present the case in the best light possible.

Sometimes if the dispute is in relation to a very niche matter or a matter that is of a unique specialism, a barrister of that speciality may be required to collaborate with the solicitor in constructing the Statement of case to the best possible standard.

After the Defendant has filed a Defence, the Courts will often ask each party to complete a Directions Questionnaire and Proposed Directions which is essentially a document by which each party explains to the Court how they would like the court to allocate and proceed with the case, including the dates for compliance with certain steps. The respective solicitors representing each party will often try to negotiate and agree this in advance of filing with the court, but sometimes when no agreement can be reached the court will either make a decision on the directions of its own accord, or will order a Case and Costs Management hearing where each party will argue their submissions for directions before a judge and the judge will then hand down directions on what it feels the court would deem the most equitable and cost effective way of progressing the case. When filing the Directions Questionnaire, the Claimant will also have a chance to file another statement of case called a ‘Reply to Defence’ if they so wish.

Once the Court has handed down directions, both parties will essentially have a timetable for trial. The Directions Order will stipulate what expert evidence is required from each party, what evidence will be permissible and what evidence wont be permissible, who the parties may call as an expert witness, when witness statements need to be exchanged, the dates for any preliminary hearings, the extent and date for disclosure, the nature and content of the trial bundle and ultimately the date of the trial itself.

Each of the above steps in the timetable to trial are quite technical and can be quite complex, and falling foul of any of them can be a deathstroke for the case at hand and lead to either the Claimants’ or Defendants’ case to be struck out and costs to be paid to the other side.

It may also be that during the course of proceedings further evidence comes to light and an application may need to be made to the court to enable certain things to happen. For example, to order specific disclosure of a document from the other side, strike out the opponent’s case, amend the directions, or to present further evidence to the Court. An application will often be submitted along with a witness statement and a draft order confirming the reasons why the application is being made and what order the court is being requested to make.

Settling a Dispute

Ultimately, the parties to a dispute can settle at any point before trial. Just because a case has been issued in the Courts does not mean the matter will proceed all the way to a trial as people sometimes believe. The Court actively encourages early settlement and solicitors on both sides will be attempting to negotiate and settle the matter at all stages through the process. Indeed, attempting to settle early sheds positive light on the party in question and even if the case does not settle, the efforts to settle can be adduced to the judge at trial when the question of costs arises. A litigation solicitor will be able to accurately advise as to the best points during proceedings to apply pressure to settle the matter in your best interests whilst maintaining a tactical edge, and will be able to negotiate on your behalf throughout the course of proceedings in order to achieve the best settlement terms possible.

Litigation

Litigation can be a time consuming and costly exercise, but sometimes it is unfortunately the only course for justice and must be undertaken. Whether you are a claimant of a defendant, we can advise you on your position so you can try and resolve your conflict in the quickest, most cost-effective way possible.  At Bennett Oakley we aim to provide litigants with transparent and clear legal advice and robust representation from the outset and throughout the litigation process within a cost effective budget that works for you.  We will work with you to find solutions and use a pro-active approach to ensure your case is presented to the highest possible degree to safeguard your interests and increase your probability of success at trial.

Asim Arshad

Updated January 2019

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