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Step 5: going to court

This advice applies to England

It’s best to get a lawyer to represent you if you can - for example a solicitor.

You might be able to find free or more affordable legal help before the case. If you can’t get legal aid or afford a solicitor, you can represent yourself in court.

The hearing will usually take place in the county court.

You can get a friend or adviser to come with you to the hearing for support. Find out more about going to court without a solicitor or barrister.

What will happen at court

You might have to go to court more than once. The court might want to deal with some issues before the actual trial to help the case go smoothly. These are called ‘preliminary issues’.

If there needs to be a hearing to decide those issues, the hearing is called a ‘preliminary hearing’. You can ask the court to treat the first hearing as a 'directions hearing'.

Directions hearing

The judge will decide what the best next steps are - this will include instructions like how and when you need to send evidence. These instructions are called ‘directions’. This hearing is called a ‘directions hearing’.

The directions will depend on things like:

  • what type of case it is - including how complex it is
  • what both parties are saying - which parts of the case you both agree on and which are in dispute
  • what you’re asking the court for
  • how long things will take to do
  • how many witnesses you’re likely to have

If you didn't send your defence form into court within 14 days you’ll need to explain to the court why it was late and give some details of what your defence is. The court will decide whether to let you defend your case.

If you missed the deadline for making a counterclaim, the court will need to decide whether to let you make it. If the court decides not to let you make a late counterclaim, it won’t need to make any directions about the counterclaim and that part of your case will end there. The court will still make directions for a full trial on the rest of your case.

Case management hearing and pre-trial reviews

You might also have to go to court again for the judge to see if the case is ready for the final hearing. At this hearing, the judge might make more directions - this type of hearing is called a ‘case management hearing’.

There might be another hearing called a 'pre-trial review'. This hearing is to make sure that the parties and the court knows what issues are outstanding to allow the case to run smoothly. The court might instead send you a 'pre-trial checklist' to complete to get the same information and prepare for the trial.

Getting a pre-trial checklist

You'll normally be sent a pre-trial checklist (sometimes called a listing questionnaire) when you’ve finished with the directions. Your answers to the checklist will help the court decide what evidence is likely be used at the trial so that they can make sure they’re ready.

You can download the pre-trial checklist (called Form N170) on the GOV.UK website or get one in person from the court.

If your case is on the multi-track you should attach a ‘timetable for trial’ to the checklist when you send it back to the court. This says how long each part of the trial should take, for example opening and closing speeches.

You need to follow all the instructions in the directions and the trial timetable. If you don’t the court could:

  • count this against you when it makes its final decision
  • decide not to hear your case
  • refuse to let you use certain evidence or arguments

If you don't follow the trial timetable and the trial gets delayed, the court could order you to pay the other side's costs.

Final hearing

If you have to go to court for a full trial, the judge will begin by deciding anything that has a bearing on how the rest of the trial will go. These are called ‘preliminary issues’. For example, one side might have failed to follow the directions or rules they were supposed to follow before the trial.

For example, you might ask the court to let you win without hearing the other side’s evidence because they haven’t stuck to any of the court directions or rules. This is called an ‘application to strike out the other side’s statement of case’.

You’ll usually need to make an application to the court in line with court rules (see Civil Procedure Rules Part 3 and Part 24 for more detail about how to do this). You might have to pay a court fee.

If the court agrees with your application and ‘strikes out’ your landlord's claim for possession, no evidence will be heard and you won't be evicted. If you have a counterclaim then you’ll still need to prove that part of your case.

The trial is the final hearing and will be when the court hears both sides’ evidence and makes a decision about your case. As you're defending the claim, the court will ask your landlord or their representative to present their evidence first.

If you’re representing yourself you’ll need to be prepared to deal with both your and the other side’s witnesses.

Giving your evidence - ‘evidence in chief ‘

You and anyone who’s given a witness statement will have to give evidence in the witness box under oath.

If a witness can’t attend and you want to rely on their witness statement, you’ll need to ask the court to be allowed to rely on it. This is called relying on ‘hearsay evidence’. You'll usually need to ask the court at least 7 days before the trial. The rules covering this are in Civil Procedure Rules Part 33.

You and any witness will be asked to confirm their name, their address, their signature and that they stand by the contents of their witness statement. This is called ‘evidence in chief’.

You’re not usually able to ask your own witnesses any questions because the court will consider that all the information should be in the witness statement, so it’s important to make sure your statements include all you need.

If there are any mistakes in the witness statements, you can ask the judge to let the witness clarify the point - like saying what the mistake is, why it was made and what the correct position is.

Cross-examination

After you or your witness has confirmed their witness statement, the other side or their representative will be able to question them. This is called ‘cross-examination’.

You or your representative will also have the opportunity to ask questions of the other side’s witnesses. Your aim is to support your own case, show any mistakes the other side might have made and show points of dispute.

Getting a decision from the court

You might get a decision on the same day, or another day if the court thinks they need more time to decide. The court will make their decision based on the evidence from both sides.

What the court will make decisions about

The court will tell you their decision about different aspects of your case, for example:

  • whether you have a protected characteristic
  • whether you were discriminated against
  • whether the other side has an effective defence - for indirect discrimination or discrimination arising from a disability this includes if the discrimination can be justified

The court will decide on each part of the case, not just the discrimination. They’ll decide whether your landlord has been able to prove they’re entitled to evict you - this might include things like whether the notice you received is valid and whether it is reasonable to evict you.

The court will decide whether each part of your case is more likely to have happened or be true than not. For example, they might have to decide whether you are more likely than not to have a disability. This is called being proved 'on the balance of probabilities’.

What decisions the court might make

The decision might be that you:

  • can stay in your home because your landlord’s case wasn’t strong enough - this is called ‘dismissing the case’
  • can stay in your home if you keep to certain conditions - this is called a ‘suspended or postponed possession order’
  • have to leave your home by a certain date because your case wasn’t strong enough - this is called an ‘outright possession order’

The court might also order that:

  • you’re given compensation
  • your landlord has to change something, for example their policy on disabled tenants
  • one side must pay the other side’s costs

If you’re claiming money, the court will decide the amount - this could be different to what you asked for. They’ll tell you when and how you’ll be paid. You might have to pay your landlord for rent arrears if the amount you’re given is less than the amount you owe.

If your case is about indirect discrimination

If your landlord proves they didn’t mean to treat you unfavourably then the court can’t look at giving you compensation until it’s considered the other solutions available to it. For example they might look at getting them to change the rule or practice that was discriminatory.

The rules covering this are in section 119 of the Equality Act 2010.

If your landlord doesn’t pay you, you’ll have to go to court to ask them to ‘enforce the judgment’. Find out more about ‘enforcing a judgment’ on GOV.UK.

If you’re asking for an injunction, the court will decide

  • if it should be made
  • what terms to include
  • how long it should last

For example your landlord might have to make adjustments within 14 days.

Costs

The court will decide:

  • whether one party has to pay the other’s costs
  • the amount of the costs
  • when they have to be paid

The general rule is that the losing party will be ordered to pay the costs of the winning party but the court can decide to make a different order.

When deciding what costs to order the court will consider:

  • your and your landlord’s conduct, including if you followed any instructions before the trial
  • whether a party has succeeded on part of its case, even if they didn’t succeed on all of it
  • any offer to settle made by a party which is drawn to the court’s attention and wasn’t made ‘without prejudice’

Conduct of the parties includes:

  • how they behaved before and during the proceedings and if they followed the court rules
  • if it was reasonable for a party to raise, pursue or dispute a particular allegation or issue
  • how a party has pursued or defended its case or a particular allegation or issue
  • if a claimant who has won all or part of their claim, exaggerated part of it

The court can also order that one party pays part of the other side’s costs or just the costs that relate to a particular part of the case.

The rules on costs are dealt with in Civil Procedure Rule 44.

You can watch videos on what to expect at court from the Ministry of Justice.

If you’re not happy with the court’s decision

You might be able to appeal - you’ll need to do this within 21 days of the court’s decision and pay a fee.

The appeal will only be considered if the judge made a legal mistake. You can’t usually introduce new evidence.

You need to ask the court’s permission to appeal. They’ll refuse if they don’t think you have a good chance of succeeding. The rules on appeals are in Civil Procedure Rule 52.

Get legal advice from a specialist as soon as possible if you want to appeal - it’s very complicated and you should ask a legal adviser if you have a good case.

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