Step 5: going to court
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 hearing. 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.
Coronavirus - if you’re going to court
Some courts are closed and others are changing the way they work.
You need to check how these changes will affect you on GOV.UK.
If you go to the court in person, you’ll have to wear a mask or covering for your mouth and nose. If you don’t wear one, you won’t be allowed in the building. Some people don’t have to wear one – check who doesn’t have to wear a mask or face covering on GOV.UK.
If the court hasn’t told you how to attend your hearing, contact them to find out. You can search for their contact details on GOV.UK.
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.
You can watch videos on what to expect at court from the Ministry of Justice.
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’.
Usually the first time you go to court, it will be for a short hearing where 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 missed the deadline for making a claim, the court will need to decide whether to let you make it. If the court decides not to let you make a late claim, it won’t need to make any directions for a full trial and the claim might end there.
Case management hearing and pre-trial review
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’.
The judge might also appoint an assessor to consider your evidence and how much compensation you should get. They might also be asked to provide expert information to the court.
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 it the case runs 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 to 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.
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. For example, one side might have failed to follow the directions or rules they were supposed to follow before the trial.
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 making the claim, the court will expect you or your representative to present your 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 (usually at least 7 days before the trial). This is called relying on ‘hearsay evidence’. The rules covering this are in Civil Procedure Rules Part 33 on GOV.UK.
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.
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.
You might get a chance to ask a few extra questions of your own witnesses if the court allows you to. This might be allowed in cases where you want the witness to address a point that came up during the cross-examination.
You can watch videos on what to expect at court from the Ministry of Justice.
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.
The court will tell you their decision about different aspects of your case, for example:
- if you have a protected characteristic
- if you were discriminated against
- if 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 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’.
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.
In cases based on indirect discrimination, if the defendant proves that they didn’t intend to treat you unfavourably then the court can’t look at giving you compensation until it’s considered the other solutions available to it - like injunctions. The rules covering this are in section 119 of the Equality Act 2010.
If the defendant 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 claiming an injunction, the court will decide whether it should be made, what terms to include in it - like if it should say a landlord must make reasonable adjustments within 14 days. It will also decide how long it should last.
If your case is on the small claims track you won’t normally have to pay the other side’s legal costs even if you don’t win your case. If you win, you won’t be able to claim any legal costs but the court could order that the other side pays your out of pocket expenses - like the court fee or reasonable travel expenses. Read more in Civil Procedure Rule 27.14.
If your case has been allocated to either the fast track or multi-track different rules apply. 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:
- the conduct of the parties - including if they followed any pre-action protocol
- 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.
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. You’ll also have to 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 if you want to appeal - it’s very complicated and you should ask a legal adviser if you have a good case.