How long does it all take?

The basic position under English law is that a claimant has six years from the date when a cause of action accrues to bring a claim for breach of contract or negligence. Broadly, time starts running from the date of the breach of contract date or the date damage was suffered as a result of negligence. In some cases (such as where there is fraud or deliberate concealment) limitation may not start running until later. It is possible under English law for the parties to agree to shorten or lengthen the limitation period. Limitation periods do not extinguish a claimant’s cause of action – they merely provide a defendant with a defence. Therefore, parties can contract out of the right to rely on a limitation period, and this is commonly done by a standstill agreement.

Before a case is started, the parties must usually comply with certain pre-action requirements, such as exchanging enough information for the other side to understand your case and considering settlement – accordingly, this can delay starting litigation for a few weeks. Once started, how long the case takes will depend to some degree on the type of case (obviously, the more witnesses and documentation involved, and the more complex the issues, the longer the case will take) and the cooperation of the parties but a rough estimate would be around 15-18 months for a commercial claim. There is no written rule, but you should expect to receive judgment within three months, although judgments are often handed down far sooner than that.
The judges have full control of the procedural timetable. Certain deadlines are prescribed by the Civil Procedure Rules or the rules of the particular court in which the proceedings are taking place.

Again, this depends on the particular case but an appeal judgment might be expected after about seven months from the trial judgment (the process is usually quicker than a first instance trial because generally no fresh evidence is allowed).

The Civil Procedure Rules or orders from the court set out when the different steps in the litigation need to be taken. Some time limits can be varied by agreement with your opponent, otherwise the court’s permission will be needed. The court has the power to sanction a party that misses a deadline – often an “unless order” will be made, breach of which may lead to judgment in default.

Delay by the claimant can amount to an abuse of process and so justify the proceedings being struck out. If the claimant had a legitimate reason for pausing proceedings, that will not be an abuse but if it appears to the court that the claimant no longer wishes to pursue the claim, the court may exercise its discretion to strike out the claim.

Proceedings can be stayed for the parties to try to negotiate a settlement, at the request of either party. This will usually be for a one month period, after which the proceedings continue.

These materials are written and provided for general information purposes only. They are not intended and should not be used as a substitute for taking legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken before acting on any of the topics covered.

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