Civil Litigation FAQ – UK
According to recent reports, litigation has been increasing across the world since the onset of the financial crisis five years ago. Over the last year, there has also been a more distinct rise in the amount of legal disputes, something that many predict will continue for the rest of 2013, and perhaps into 2014. To find out more, Lawyer Monthly speaks to Gareth Jones, Senior Associate and Head of General Litigation at Abacus Solicitors LLP in Manchester.
Q: Please introduce yourself and your firm.
Abacus has established itself as a leading provider of legal services to a diverse portfolio of clients throughout the UK. Our team of specialists has built the firm’s reputation by combining professional expertise with a personalised approach, delivering high quality, practical legal services. We provide services in Residential and Commercial Property, Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence, Actions Against the Police and Litigation.
Q: What are the common cases of civil litigation you deal with?
I head up a team of solicitors dealing with all types of general litigation. Essentially, my team deals with all areas of litigation outside of PI and Clinical Negligence, which we have other specialists to deal with. Our main areas of specialism are:
- Contractual disputes
- Mortgage Enforcement
- Property disputes
- Debt Recovery & Insolvency
- Professional Negligence
- Mis-Sold Interest Rate Swaps
Q: What are the most common challenges you face?
The most common challenge in any sort of litigation is entrenched litigants. It is very easy for the parties on either side of a dispute to dig their heels in and want to battle it out and ‘have their day’ in Court. The worst types of dispute for this tend to be disputes between neighbours or disputes between former partners (both in the business and personal context). The litigation is often very personal to each party in those circumstances and neither wants to ‘lose face’. I have heard neighbour disputes described as being worse than a divorce because generally you still have to live next to the person afterwards.
Q: How do you navigate them?
Firstly, I always try to get my clients to remove the personal points in the dispute from their thinking. I challenge them on how important certain aspects of the case are to them. Clarifying what exactly they would like to achieve and whether that is achievable and at what potential cost. I always like to try and think outside of the box to see whether there is any compromise that would serve both parties.
I also advise my clients that taking matters through the Court should, in most cases, be a last resort. I recommend trying to settle through Alternative Dispute Resolution such as round table meetings or mediation. Whilst I find that these are often costly exercises in themselves, it is significantly less costly than Court proceedings themselves, especially for the losing party.
Q: What issues do you face when dealing with professional negligence disputes?
The issues in these cases vary greatly dependent upon the type of professional being pursued or indeed even the type of case against a particular field. So negligence from missing a deadline in a Personal Injury case can differ wildly from negligent advice in a conveyancing matter.
Broadly speaking, the issues being assessed are whether there was a duty of care, was that duty breached and if so did that breach lead to (or cause) a loss to the client. The next step is to then quantify that loss. There are then other factors to consider such as whether the client has contributed to their own loss.
Another issue which is often significant is the time limitation for bringing claims in negligence. The standard limitation period in most professional negligence cases is six years from the date of the negligence. Sometimes this is extended where the negligence only becomes apparent at a later stage. The question is when the Claimant ought to have been aware of the negligence and if you are relying on this extension it can often be quite complex. There is a long stop date of 15 years within which claims must be brought.
Q: Have professional negligence disputes become notably more common over the last few years?
Negligence claims have certainly become more commonplace. This is possibly as a result of increased consumer awareness of such issues but may also be because of an increased reliance on professional advisors in a range of matters. Other issues such as the economic downturn have also led to an increase in negligence claims, for example, against valuers and solicitors in conveyancing matters.
Q: Are there any legislative changes you would like to see within this area?
As negligence is a mainly tortious remedy there isn’t a great deal of legislation on the issue or much scope for any to be implemented. I think that the Pre-Action Protocol works well but my view is that the three month time limit for investigation could in most cases be reduced. I think that a case requiring three months of investigation is really the exception rather than the norm and a reduced period of one month would be more than reasonable after initial acknowledgment of the claim.
Q: How does your firm assist clients involved in civil litigation? Is there any general advice you could offer clients to prevent the situation from escalating?
We offer a variety of solutions to people who have civil litigation disputes. Most of the cases will involve us sitting down initially with the client discussing their case and what they want to achieve. We will then discuss how this can be achieved with the key considerations being proportionality and cost-effectiveness of the options discussed.
The best advice is to try and resolve the dispute as amicably as possible by speaking directly with the other side once you have obtained proper advice on the strength of your position. However, in most instances, by the time clients come to see us there has already been a substantial breakdown in the relationship between the parties. As previously stated, it is important to see litigation in the Courts as a last resort and to try and resolve the matter either through correspondence or by sitting down round a table with a mediator or just with legal representatives to try and resolve the issues.
I would also advise that a client does keep a record of any discussions they have with the other side or a diary of events because it can often become a case of ‘who said what’ and keeping contemporaneous records can often assist.
If you have a dispute you need help with, contact Gareth:
Tel: 0161 8330044
Courtesy of Gareth Jones and www.lawyer-monthly.com