Directions Questionnaire (Form N181) and Legal Costs Recovery

 

 

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What is a Directions Questionnaire (Form N181)?

A Directions Questionnaire is a form which allows the court to gather information on the case from all parties to the litigation, so as to set directions to Trial. Largely, the information required on in the questionnaire will have regard to specific details of the claim, witness details or expert evidence.

In most matters, multi-track cases will be complex and have a value exceeding £25,000, whereas a fast track claim will usually have a value of between £10,000 and £25,000 (unless it involves personal injury). If a claim is on the small-claims track, the matter will generally be of a low value and for non-personal injury related matters, has a limit of up to £10,000.

When considering whether to allocate the claim to the fast track or multi-track, a Form N181 will be utilized. Alternatively, if it has been provisionally decided that a matter will be allocated to the Small Claims Track, a Form N180 will be used.

 

When is a Directions Questionnaire Completed?

A Directions Questionnaire is completed following receipt of a Defence. Prior to the completion of the questionnaire, a ‘Notice of Provisional Allocation to Track’ will be provided to both parties which indicates the Court’s initial assessment of the case. As a result of this provisional direction, the parties will complete either of the Forms N180 or N181.

Once the questionnaire has been completed, the judge will decide the final allocation. If they require further information, an allocation hearing may be arranged.

Once a decision has been arrived at, the judge will provide a ‘Notice of Allocation’. This document will contain information regarding the expectations of the Court in relation to the next steps of the matter and set directions for the filing and exchange of evidence, with a provisional timescale (or sometimes a definitive listing given) for the Trial to take place.

 

Who can Complete a Directions Questionnaire?

Any party to the proceedings.  If an individual has instructed a Solicitor, it is likely that the legal representative will undertake the necessary questionnaire preparations. However, if a party is acting as a Litigant in Person, they can complete the document. The questionnaires are readily available online.

 

Sanctions for Non-Completion

As with other failures during the litigation process, a party could face a penalty if they do not submit their Directions Questionnaire on time. 

The Court provides a date on the ‘Notice of Provisional Allocation to Track’ by which they expect the questionnaire to be received. It is vital to take notice of this as a delay in returning the document will inevitably delay proceedings, thus incurring unnecessary legal costs and could also lead to sanctions, such as the Court not taking into account a party’s requirement to rely upon evidence.  This could be extremely detrimental for a Claimant or Defendant if they do not obtain permission for items such as expert evidence.

 

What are the Contents of the Directions Questionnaire?

The contents of the Directions Questionnaire seeks to establish that all pre-action protocols and attempts to resolve the claim via ADR have been followed.  Various other aspects of the administration of the case are also considered, such as preferred location of the Court (bearing in mind all matters are initially issued from the County Court Money Claims Centre, and therefore get transferred to a Court of local vicinity on allocation), number of lay and expert witnesses to be relied upon, and the expected length of Trial.

Directions can ultimately be agreed with the other side, thus rendering any listed hearing potentially unnecessary. However, proposed directions will be formed off the back of the Directions Questionnaire contents, and if the parties position substantially differs on issues such as expert evidence or appropriate track, then it is likely an attended hearing will be necessary (a Case Management Conference (CMC).

 

What about Legal Costs?

 

Those who have considered the Directions Questionnaire Form N181 will note there is a section on costs.  In Small Claims and Fast Track matters, there is very little information to be included in this section.  In Multi Track matters, parties will note the reference to the inclusion of a Precedent H (also referred to as a Costs Budget).

In such matters, it is imperative that any party to litigation consults the opinion of a legal costs professional to ensure this document is completed correctly as it should reflect your legal costs incurred to date, as well as accurately predicting your future expenditure on the litigation.  These documents will be assessed at any Costs and Case Management Conference (CCMC) and are generally binding i.e. expenditure above the amounts budgeted are generally not permitted absent a ‘good reason’ to do so, and failure to file an adequate Budget can lead to significant costs being lost on a successful conclusion to a case.

Costs Budgets usually need to be filed alongside the Directions Questionnaire however, in cases where damages exceed £50,000 they must be filed atleast 21 days before the first CMC. 

 

How can ARC Costs Assist?

 

Our team of costs experts specialise in providing legal costs advice and assistance throughout and on conclusion of litigation.

It is imperative that a competent Costs Draftsman or Costs Lawyer is instructed early in the litigation process to ensure that any Costs Budget is completed accurately. 

On a Directions Questionnaire, it will also be noted that parties are given the option to select whether they are trying to settle their dispute prior to a hearing. If the parties are in agreement of doing so, then a Schedule or Statement of Costs may need to be prepared in advance of any settlement discussions or Joint Settlement Meeting to try and obtain a payment on account of costs, or reach an all inclusive agreement.

If a settlement is reached, whether at the directions stage or a later stage of litigation, it is likely that a Bill of Costs will need to be prepared to resolve costs if they do not form part of settlement.

Our team of experts are always at hand to assist in preparing and negotiating any Bill of Costs.   As independent experts, we can also be instructed by either of the Paying or Receiving Parties, and we are therefore well versed in preparing legal arguments concerning costs in the form of Points of Dispute and Replies to the Points of Dispute.

To seek advice on how we can help you, please email one of the team on info@arccosts.co.uk or via telephone on 01204 397302.

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