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Part 7 procedure for starting a claim in the county court

This content applies to England & Wales

The Part 7 procedure is normally used for starting most claims.

Completing the claim form

All cases in the county court are begun by the claimant filling in a claim form. Under Part 7 the claim form is form N1.[1] Form N1 includes the claimant's name and address, the defendant's name and address, brief details of the claim, the value of the claim and the particulars of claim, if practicable (see Part 7 procedure for more information).

The claim form can be obtained free of charge from the client's local court, or from HM Courts and Tribunals Service. Each form is numbered clearly and explains how it should be completed.

The form should be completed by the claimant, a copy made for the claimant (and copies for any defendants). The claim form must then be taken or posted to the court (alternatively known as 'filed'), addressed to the court manager or served on the defendant directly (see below).

If filed at court, the court manager will check that the form has been completed correctly and may suggest some alterations or amendments. The appropriate fee for starting court proceedings must be paid at this stage (see Court fees). The court then enters details of the claim in the court records, gives the claim a number called the 'claim number', and dates the claim form. This is called 'issuing a claim'. Once this has been done it means that the case has formally commenced.

Serving the claim form

In order for the case to proceed, the defendant must be informed about the claim. The court sends the claim form to the defendant along with forms for acknowledging service (this means acknowledging that s/he has received the court papers), admitting the claim and defending the claim. (See Part 7 procedure for more information about the defendant's response). This is known as 'serving' and in general the claim form must be served within four months of the date of issue.[2] The court has the power to extend this period where the claimant has taken 'reasonable steps' to serve in time.[3]

Usually, the court serves the claim form on the defendant by first class post, but the claimant can notify the court that s/he wishes to serve it herself/himself.[4] This might be, for example because of administrative delays in court service. Where the claimant does so, particular methods of service and steps required are set out in the Civil Procedure Rules. Service may be by first class post, delivery to an address, personally on the defendant or any other method agreed in a contract by claimant and defendant.[5] Service by email or fax is also allowed, but only where the defendant or his/her solicitor has indicated that s/he is willing to accept service in this way and given a fax number or email address to which service can be made.[6] The Supreme Court has held that even where a claimant has previously corresponded with the defendant by email, this is not necessarily an indication that service of a claim form will be accepted by electronic means.[7]

Where there is 'good reason' to do so, the court can authorise service by a different method than those above and can do so after the event - making previously invalid service acceptable.[8] In the courts' consideration of what is good reason, most claimants (even litigants in person) will be expected to understand the rules on service.[9]

If the claimant does serve the claim form herself/himself, s/he should then file a certificate of service with the courts within 21 days unless all the defendant has filed an acknowledgement of service by this time.[10]

Procedure and content of the particular of claims

The particulars of claim are the details of the reason for the claim. If practicable, the particulars of claim should be filed by the claimant with the court at the same time as the claim form (see Part 7 procedure). If it is not practicable, they should be set out in a separate document and show the name of the court, the case number and the title of the proceedings. The claimant must send it to the defendant within 14 days of the date when the claim form was served.[11] Within seven days of serving the particulars of claim on the defendant, the claimant must send a copy of the particulars of claim to the court together with a certificate of service, which states that s/he has served the particulars of claim on the defendant.[12]

It is important for the claimant or her/his adviser to ensure that the facts in the particulars of claim are clear and accurate so that the court has as much information as it needs to decide the issue. The language used in the particulars of claim does not need to be legalistic.

The exact content of the particulars of claim partly depends on the type of claim. However, all particulars should set out:

  • a chronology of relevant events
  • details of the claim
  • the legal basis for the claim
  • what the claimant is asking for

Statement of truth

The claim form, and if served separately, the particulars of claim, must be verified by a statement of truth. A statement of truth is a statement that the party believes that the facts stated in the claim form (or defence, see Part 7 procedure for more  information) are true.[13] It must be signed by the party or her/his litigation friend or her/his solicitor.[14]

If a statement of truth is made without an honest belief in its truth, the person making the statement may face sanctions from the court for being dishonest or misleading, which can include being sent to prison (this is known as being 'in contempt of court'). It is therefore preferable for the statement to be signed by the client, not the adviser.

Next steps for defendant

Receipt of claim form

Once the defendant receives the claim form, s/he must:

  • file and serve an admission within 14 days, or
  • file an acknowledgement of service within 14 days, or
  • file a defence within either 14 days of receiving the particulars of claim, or if an acknowledgement of service has been filed, within 28 days of receiving the particulars of claim. The defence must contain a statement of truth.

The defendant does not have to do anything until s/he receives the particulars of claim. Therefore, if the defendant receives a claim form but no particulars of claim, there is no need for her/him to respond. However, if the defendant fails to file either a defence or an acknowledgement of service (an N9 form that is sent to the court by the defendant to acknowledge receipt of the claim form and particulars of claim) in the time allowed, the claimant can ask the court to allow the claim in full. This is known as a default judgment.

Admitting the claim

The defendant can admit all or part of the claim. If the claim is for a specified amount of money, s/he can pay it immediately or request time to pay it. If the claimant requested a remedy (for example, requesting the landlord to carry out repairs), the defendant can admit liability and say when the remedy will be given.

Acknowledgement of service

This is a document sent to the court by a defendant when they receive a claim against her/him and where s/he is unable to file a defence within 14 days of service of the particulars of claim. It confirms receipt of the claim form and allows the defendant to state that s/he intends to defend all or part of the claim and needs 28 days after service of the particulars of claim to prepare the defence.[15] The acknowledgement of service form is also used where the defendant disputes the court's jurisdiction.[16] For Part 7 cases, form N9 is the acknowledgement of service form.[17] If the defendant doesn't file a defence after filing an acknowledgement of service, the claimant may be able to obtain a default judgment (see above).[18]

Defending the claim

The defendant can file a defence form with the court. This is a document containing the reasons why a claim should not succeed. It can include both legal and factual arguments on behalf of the defendant and must answer all the points raised by the claimant in their claim form. Any point not specifically dealt with in a defence will be assumed by the court to be admitted by the defendant.

Any defence must contain a statement of truth.[19] 'Bare' or 'holding' defences (where the defendant merely denies all the allegations in the claim form without providing any reasons for the denial) are not permitted.[20]

The defendant can also make a counterclaim, which is a claim brought by a defendant in response to the claim being made against her/him by the claimant. For example, a council tenant defending possession proceedings on the basis of rent arrears may counterclaim for damages for breach of repair.

Settle case out of court

The defendant can approach the claimant with suggestions of how to settle the claim without continuing the court action. Advisers should be aware that in some situations an out of court settlement may be the best outcome for the client and is likely to reduce costs. However, particularly where the claim is for money, if the client is the claimant, s/he should not be pressured into agreeing a lower amount where they have a good case.

There is also a special procedure called the Part 36 procedure, where either party may make an offer to settle a claim. If refused, a Part 36 offer may have significant costs consequences.[21]

Defendant does nothing

If the defendant does not reply within the time limit, or at all, the claimant can request the court to make an order against the defendant (known as a default judgment). The procedure and availability of this varies according to the remedy sought in the claim and whether the defendant acknowledged service of the court papers.[22]

[1] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 7.2 and Practice Direction 4.

[2] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 7.5.

[3] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 7.6.

[4] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 6.4(1).

[5] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 6.5 and 6.11.

[6] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 6.3(1)(d) and para 4.1 Practice Direction 6A.

[7] Barton v Wright Hassall LLP [2018] UKSC 12.

[8] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 6.15.

[9] Barton v Wright Hassall LLP [2018] UKSC 12.

[10] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 6.18(2)(a).

[11] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 7.4.

[12] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 7.4(3).

[13] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 22.1(4).

[14] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 22.1(6).

[15] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 10.1(3)(a).

[16] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 10.1(3)(b).

[17] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 10.

[18] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 12.1.

[19] Civil Procedure Rules, Practice Direction 2.1 to Part 15.

[20] Civil Procedure Rules, rule 16.5.

[21] Civil Procedure Rules, Part 36.

[22] Civil Procedure Rules, Part 12.

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