environmental law centre
UK court system

about elc health environment

Get Legal Advice/Help
Before taking any complaint as far as court, you should always seek legal advice. This may be available free through a Law Centre or by going to a solicitor, many of whom now offer a free initial interview. Consider mediation services.

Nature of claim
Civil cases can relate to:-
- a claim that one side has broken their contract with the other; or
- a claim that one side has breached a duty imposed by the common law without the need for there to be a contract, for example, a civil action can be brought if a person defames you or trespasses on your land.

The usual remedy is financial damages - and sometimes a court order instructing a party either to carry out a particular course of action or to stop doing so - an injunction.

Who initiates proceedings?
Unlike criminal proceedings - where the State almost always has the role of prosecuting individuals who are alleged to have broken the criminal law, in a civil action one party takes proceedings against another party.

The party who initiates proceedings is the plaintiff and the party against whom proceedings are brought is the defendant.

How do you initiate proceedings?
Most civil cases will be brought in the County Court - although cases concerning very large sums of compensation will begin in the High Court.

You can obtain the appropriate forms to start a civil action from your local County Court, but it is advisable to seek advice from a solicitor.

You could be eligible for financial support under the Community Legal Service scheme.

Is Legal Aid available?
The Community Legal Service (CLS) has replaced the Legal Aid system. It is available for both civil and criminal cases. Assistance in criminal cases is dealt with separately in sections on criminal law. All CLS advisors will have a quality mark to show they have reached an approved standard. To find out details of local General Help Points - for example Citizens Advice Bureaux- and Specialist Help Points - such as solicitors and Law Centres - call 0845 608 11222. For more information on the CLS go to the Website at www.justask.org.uk.



The Community Legal Service has its own fund. You can apply for initial assistance in cases involving:

  • Divorce
  • Housing matters such as rent or mortgage arrears, repairs and eviction
  • Welfare benefits
  • Credit, debt, buying goods
  • Immigration, nationality or asylum
  • Employment
  • Family and children
  • Judicial review
  • Mental Health
  • Actions against the police
  • Medical negligence
  • Care in the community

Who qualifies for assistance?
If you are on a low income with little capital you may qualify for free funding or you may be asked for a contribution.

If your income is £2000 or less a month or disposable income £601 or less a month and your disposable capital is £3000 or less you will qualify for initial help.

People on benefits will usually be financially eligible unless they have capital above £3000. The value of your home can be taken into account in some situations. If further work is needed, for example to bring court proceedings, then the CLS will also need to be satisfied that you have a good enough case before any funding is given. Your solicitor will assist with applying for this.

If you are successful with a case funded by the CLS, you may be asked to pay some or all of the money back. This is called the Statutory Charge. You should make sure your solicitor has explained this to you. You may be able to come to a No Win- No Fee agreement with your solicitor. This means that you will not be charged for services unless a minimum agreed result is achieved in your case. Obviously it is important that you are both clear on what has been agreed between you. You may also be able to take out insurance to cover your legal costs in the result of an unsuccessful action.

If you have difficulty obtaining representation some organisations such as the Bar Pro Bono Unit or the Free Representation Unit do free legal work.

Bar Pro Bono Unit
6 Gray's Inn Square
Gray's Inn
Tel: 020 7831 9711




© Environmental Law Centre
PO Box 267 Southport PR8 1WD UK