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Civil laws and county courts explained

Civil laws and county courts explainedWhat is civil law? What are county courts? And what has it all got to do with a snail in a ginger beer bottle? Read on to find out.

Civil law mainly handles disputes between individuals or companies. Cases must be proved on the balance of probabilities.

This means that the civil court must be convinced that there is more than a 50 per cent probability the accused is guilty. The court will decide this based on the evidence submitted.

Which courts handle civil cases?

Most civil disputes are settled outside of court and of those that do make it to court, the majority won’t even reach a trial.

Civil justice in England and Wales is handled mainly by the county courts and the High Court, with the High Court dealing with the more substantial and complex cases. In Scotland, the bulk of civil business is handled in the sheriff court.

What do county courts handle?

There are 228 county or small claims courts throughout England and Wales dealing with all but the most complicated civil law proceedings. They are a good way of settling claims up to the value of £5,000, allowing people to take civil action without having to hire a solicitor.
The most common types of claims that County Courts will handle include:

  • compensation for faulty services, for example, by builders, dry cleaners, garages
  • compensation for faulty goods, for example, consumer goods like televisions or washing machines which go wrong
  • disputes between landlords and tenants, for instance, rent arrears or compensation for not doing repairs
  • wages owed or money in lieu of notice


There’s a snail in my ginger beer

One of the most famous civil disputes is the Donoghue vs Stevenson case

In 1932, May Donoghue successfully sued drinks manufacturer David Stevenson after discovering a decomposing snail in her ginger beer.

How are civil cases processed?

Claimants complete a form and a copy is sent to the defendant. The defendant must then say whether they agree that they owe the money or they want to dispute the claim. If the defendant agrees, they must pay the money owing plus the cost of submitting the claim (depending on the claim, this could be £30- £120).

In the event of a dispute both sides will usually be asked to attend a hearing before a judge.
After the hearing the defendant is sent an order, sometimes called a judgment, which sets out the judge's decision. Judgments which relate to payment of money are almost all recorded on the Register of County Court Judgments (CCJ). Having a CCJ will then affect the credit rating of the defendant.
If the defendant fails to pay, the court can be asked to try to recover the money.

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