When asked about the legal system in this country, most people would probably describe it as being very slow, complicated, expensive and uncertain. They would largely be right. However, it also has lots of good features as well. Most importantly, it provides a means to compensate CRPS sufferers to help them put their lives back on track.

In the right hands, the legal process needn’t be a mystery or a worry, but instead it can be used to good effect in order to achieve the very best result for the person who needs it most i.e. someone’s who’s life has been blighted by CRPS. An experienced CRPS solicitor should be able to take away the additional stress and worry and guide the sufferer through the legal process within the minimum of fuss.

There is every possibility that a good out of Court settlement will be secured along the way.  Experience shows that the very vast majority of cases are settled by negotiation at some stage during the court process. However, the Court is there to fall back on if all else fails.

The following paragraphs have been prepared to give an overview of the key stages in a compensation claim and, in particular, to give an outline of the Court process. It sets out the main steps which are likely to be encountered and attempts to explain some of the legal terminology.

Pre-Action Protocols

Pre-action protocols - Legal System in the UKThese are the rules and procedures that both sides are expected to follow before consideration is given to commencing formal court proceedings. The person making the claim is known as the “Claimant” and the person or organisation against whom the case is being pursued is known as the “Defendant”.

There are various Protocols in place which vary according to the type of case. The 2 that are most likely to apply to a CRPS compensation claim are the Pre-Action Protocol for Personal Injury Claims, and the Pre-Action Protocol for the Resolution of Clinical Disputes. All of the Protocols form part of the court rules (called the “Civil Procedure Rules”) even though the formal court process has not yet started.

The most important part of the Protocols from the Claimants point of view is that they set out a timetable. The first significant step is that the Claimant’s solicitors must write a fairly detailed letter to the intended Defendant setting out the grounds of the claim. This is called a “Letter of Claim”. The Defendant is required to acknowledge the letter within 14 days and then provide a detailed reply within 4 months of the Letter of Claim. This is called the “Letter of Response”.

It is possible that the Defendant will through in the towel at this point, but unfortunately that is very rare. Defendants nearly always have lots of reasons why they think that they are not responsible, and why they shouldn’t pay! Very often the real driving force behind the Defendants response is a large insurance company.

It is true to say that, in most cases, the communications between the Claimant and the Defendant during this stage of the process merely serve to crystallise the areas of disagreement. Almost inevitably, this will lead to the Claimant being advised to start formal court proceedings in order to progress the claim to the next level.

Court Proceedings

Court Proceedings - Legal System in the UKIt is probably worth making a few general points about the full-blown court process.

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of cases never get to a final court hearing. Most CRPS compensation claims are resolved by negotiation during the course of the legal procedure. A good CRPS compensation solicitor will be able to use the system to their client’s advantage.

Secondly, having the court decide the outcome at a final court hearing should generally be seen as a last resort. The very fact that the case has got that far tends to indicate that both sides have some strength in their arguments. It should also be said that court hearings are not a very pleasant experience for the people involved (apart from the lawyers of course because that is what they are trained to do!); they can be fussy and complicated; and, most importantly of all, the outcome can never be guaranteed. Just like everyone else, no 2 judges are the same.

However, the court process is the only option when a Defendant won’t play ball. A good CRPS solicitor will use it to achieve the very best outcome for their client.

Once the court process is underway, the claim has to go through various procedural steps which nearly always follow the same pattern. Only once those steps have been completed, will a final court hearing take place (assuming of course that a good settlement has not been achieved in the interim period). The key stages are summarised below:

Claim Form, Particulars of Claim & Schedule of Loss

Claim Forms - Legal System in the UKThese documents set out the full grounds of the Claimant’s case and identify the various elements of the compensation being sought. These very important court papers are usually prepared by the Claimant’s solicitor and barrister working together.

Once they have been completed and then approved by the Claimant, the documents will be lodged with the court in order to start the formal legal process. They are then sent to the Defendant in order to start the case in earnest.

The Civil Procedure Rules talk about court papers being “served”, but all that really means is that they have been put in the post! The old days of court bailiffs turning up on Defendants doorsteps with official papers have long gone.

Defence

The next step is that the Defendant must produce a detailed response to the claim. A Defendant has a limited amount of time in which to do this.  This is usually about a month, although it can be up to 2 months.

The response will take the form of a document known as a “Defence”.  It will set out the grounds of the Defendants case. It is very common for a Defendant to deny and argue about everything at this stage of the process! Claimants shouldn’t be put off by this. There is still a long way to go. It is a common tactic because it keeps the Defendants options open for longer.

Case Management Conference

Case Management Conference - Legal System in the UKOnce the Defence has been received, the Court will decide how the case is to proceed and a timetable will be set out for bringing it to a final conclusion at a later date. There will be a procedural hearing for this purpose in front of a judge. Normally, it is only the legal representatives who need to attend.

Unfortunately, because the courts are so busy, it might be several months before this procedural hearing takes place.

Disclosure

The next step after that will be for the parties to exchange formal Lists of all the documents relating to the claim which are/or have been in their possession, custody or control.  This is called the “disclosure” stage.

The purpose of disclosure is to enable both parties to ascertain the strength of their opponents’ case by considering all of the relevant documentary evidence. It is also designed to ensure that no-one is taken by surprise at a later date. It is, therefore, a very significant stage.

The most important documents in a CRPS compensation claim are likely to be the Claimant’s medical records, both before and after the accident, or medical treatment, in question. They are likely to form an important backbone to the case. Your CRPS solicitor will need to obtain and assess these at a very early stage.

Collection & Exchange of Evidence

Collection and Exchange of Evidence - Legal System in the UKThroughout the claim, the CRPS lawyer will also be identifying the evidence which can be used to support the Claimant’s case.  Most of this will consist of evidence from the Claimant personally; that of friends, family and colleagues; and any independent witnesses that might have been involved in what happened.

As the case develops, further potential witnesses might be identified. All witnesses who are to be relied on in court have to make a Witness Statement which must comply with various legal and procedural requirements. The way in which a good Witness Statement is put together is a skill which comes from experience and sound legal knowledge.

All Witness Statements that are to be used in court must be disclosed to the other party and to the Court at a pre-determined point in the legal process. When this is to happen is usually determined at the Case Management Conference referred to earlier.

Medical Evidence (also known as Expert Evidence)

Expert evidence is the name to given to both sides’ medical witnesses. The court has the power to control what evidence each side is allowed to use, and when it must be produced.

Initially, the medical evidence on both sides will be in the form of written reports which have been prepared after a consultation with the Claimant. The medical witnesses/experts might have to give oral evidence to the court at the final hearing (trial) if they disagree with one another’s opinions.

The role and timing of the evidence from the medical witnesses is one of the more important things that the judge will deal with at the Case Management Conference referred to above.

Pre-Trial Review

Sometimes it is necessary for another procedural hearing to take place in front of a Judge before the Trial itself.

The purpose is to try and narrow down the areas of dispute between the parties, and for the Court to investigate the possibility of a settlement being achieved without the need for a full trial.

This hearing (the Pre-Trial Review) usually takes place at least a month before the date which has been set aside for the full trial.

Both sides (Claimant & Defendant) will often be expected to attend this hearing with their legal representatives.

Trial and Judgment

Trial and Judgement - Legal System in the UKAs previously stated, it is very likely that a good out of court settlement can be achieved without the need for a final court hearing. However, if that does not prove to be possible, it may be helpful to know that, as a very rough guide, it is usually between 1 & 2 years between the dates when the court process is started and when the final court hearing (trial) takes place. The court will try and give as much notice as possible of this date.

If a trial does take place, both sides will be represented by their solicitor and barrister. The Claimant’s and the Defendant’s cases will be presented to a Judge and a decision will be made by the Judge after the court has heard all of the evidence and legal arguments. There is no jury.

In more complex cases, it is possible that the outcome will not be known at the end of the trial but will be delayed for some days or weeks whilst the court thinks long and hard about coming to the right decision.

Contact Peter Bayliss

Photos of Peter Baylis - Dedicated CRPS SolicitorPeter Bayliss is a dedicated CRPS solicitor.

To find out if Peter can help you please use the following contact details: –

  • Phone: 0845 838 5565
  • Email: peter@peter-bayliss.co.uk

You can claim a free, no obligation consultation to simply discuss your situation.