This page is targeted at housing professionals. Our main site is at www.shelter.org.uk

Civil court structure

This content applies to England & Wales

Structure of the civil court, including the High Court and the county court.

Civil proceedings can be brought in either the county court or the High Court. The general rule is that cases in which the value of the claim does not exceed £100,000 must be started in the county court.[1]

The majority of housing cases (with a few notable exceptions – see The High Court, below) will be brought in the county court.

In some cases, both the High Court and the county court will have jurisdiction to deal with the case and in this situation the client will have a choice as to the court in which s/he wishes to commence proceedings.[2]

The High Court and the county court have powers to transfer cases from one court to another, as appropriate.[3]

The High Court

The High Court deals with the most difficult and complicated civil cases. A client whose case must be commenced in the High Court should be referred to a specialist adviser because the rules on representation in the High Court allow only those representatives with higher rights of audience to represent a client in the High Court.

As a general rule, a case may not be started in the High Court unless the value of the claim exceeds £100,000. If the value of the claim exceeds this amount, the client has a choice as to whether to start proceedings in the High Court. However, there are some cases, such as applications for judicial review or high value possession claims, which can only be heard in the High Court. Additionally, cases that include a claim for damages for personal injury in which the value of the claim exceeds £50,000 must be commenced in the High Court.[4]

Where a case can only be started in the High Court, the client will not have a choice as to the court in which to start proceedings.

Starting proceedings in the High Court

Where the claimant has the choice of starting proceedings in either the High Court or the county court, then a claim should be started in the High Court if the claimant believes that the claim should be dealt with by a High Court judge because of:

  • the financial value of the claim and the amount in dispute and/or
  • the complexity of the facts, legal issues, remedies or procedures involved and/or
  • the importance of the outcome of the claim to the public in general.[5]

The county court

The county court deals with civil matters, including all money claims of up to £100,000. However, in theory, any proceedings may be started in a county court. Under the track system (see the section on Preparing for court for information), claims of a value of up to £10,000  or £1,000 in disrepair cases are normally allocated to the small claims track in the county court.[6]

Cases are not automatically referred to the small claims track but are allocated by the district judge (see the section on County court personnel) on the basis of their value and complexity.

There is a single national County Court for England and Wales.[7] The historic geographical jurisdictional boundaries of the county courts were removed in 2014. Claims that are not issued online can be started at any County Court office and will be sent to the appropriate hearing centre by that office. The address of the property (or of the defendant when it is not a claim for property or land) will determine the appropriate County Court hearing centre for the claim.[8]

[1] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 7A.2.1.

[2] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 7A.1.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, Part 30.

[4] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 7A.2.2.

[5] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 7A.2.4.

[6] Civil Procedure Rules, Part 27.

[7] s.17 and Sch.9 Crime and Courts Act 2013; Crime and Courts Act 2013 (Commencement No. 10 and Transitional Provision) Order 2014 SI 2014/954.

[8] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 56.2.

Back to top