What to do when you receive a (Civil) Letter before Action?
by Zaid Anwar
After lockdown was announced, it felt as though those in dispute with one another were showing patience, and people were more understanding of the other party’s challenges and difficulties.
In the past few months, it is clear people have become familiar with their new way of life and I have seen an increase of claims being instigated.
A lot of the time, this starts with a letter before action (also known as a letter of claim).
It is widely accepted that before a party intends to issue a claim in the Court, the proposed claimant is usually required to furnish the proposed defendant with a letter before action setting out the nature of their claim. The proposed defendant is given an opportunity to refute the allegations or claims which are made against them.
This article is aimed at those who have been furnished with a letter of claim and what the immediate considerations should be if you receive one.
To begin with, it is important that such a letter, if received, should not be ignored as there is a good chance that matters can be resolved in pre-action correspondence.
If the letter goes unanswered, the likelihood is that the proposed claimant will take steps to issue a claim in the court. You will then be embroiled in court proceedings which is far from ideal. My previous article sets out the ‘dangers of litigation’- a link to which is here.
If you are furnished with a letter before action, consider the following do’s and don’ts:
- Firstly, (I have touched on this above) don’t ignore it! It is highly unlikely that the matter will go away by not reacting to it.
- Anticipate a dialog – begin organising any documentation you hold in relation to the matter at hand. This will help you form a clear argument (if any) in response. If you decide to instruct or take advice from a lawyer, this will also enable them to clearly consider your position and advise you comprehensively. You should note that any documents you find should not be destroyed as they may be (if relevant) disclosable in the course of any proceedings.
- Alongside collating relevant documents, it is important to assemble a timeline of events and discussions (whether via written correspondence, in person or otherwise). It is vital to note down the key events and discussions as this will most definitely aid in the process of building a defence against the alleged claims.
- Consider any Pre-Action Protocol that might apply, especially if you are intending to represent yourself as a Litigant in Person. The Protocol will set out what is expected of you and the dates by which you should take certain steps.
- Diarise any key dates. Typically speaking, in a less complicated matter, a letter before action will usually require responding to in 14-21 days. For more complicated cases, additional time may be needed. A proposed claimant may have only allowed 21 days or less and so, if more time is needed, consider requesting an extension of time as early as possible.
- Consider the strength of your response and try to be objective. Fighting a matter ‘on principle’ is never wise.
- Consider consulting a solicitor. I will be happy to have a free initial conversation with you to discuss the matter and explore how best you can respond to the claim.
Zaid Anwar is a Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution department who offers a free initial conversation to new clients. In your free initial conversation with Zaid, you will be able to discuss your matter with him. If you receive a letter of action and wish to consult a solicitor, talk to our team on 01494 773377 or [email protected]
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