Civil pre-trial procedures

Overall, civil pre-trial procedures are in place to ensure that disputing parties can come to a fair resolution. These procedures encourage parties to gain as much knowledge of the case as a whole as possible, and encourage parties to settle out of court.

The pre-trial process begins with the letter of demand:

  1. Letter of demand

  • The letter of demand is a formal letter from the plaintiff’s solicitor to the defendant. It outlines the nature of the claim and remedy sought. The defendant is given two weeks to reply.


The purpose of the pleadings stage is for the parties to gain knowledge of the details of the case, including the nature of the claim, the opposing case, and the remedy sought. In this stage, the parties can clarify issues and prepare their cases.

  1. Writ

  • A writ is a document served by the plaintiff’s solicitor to the defendant, and lodged to the court.
  • It informs the defendant that civil proceedings are being taken against them.
  • It outlines the case against the defendant, the time and place of the trial, the mode of trial (judge or jury), and the costs involved.
  1. Notice of appearance

  • The notice of appearance is the defendant’s reply to the writ. It states that the defendant will defend the action.
  • Two copies are delivered to the court. One copy is filed, while the other is then served to the plaintiff
  1. Statement of claim

  • The statement of claim outlines the precise details of the plaintiffs case, including their version of the facts and the remedy sought. However, it does not include evidence. The statement of claim is often included with the writ.
  1. Statement of defence

  • The statement of defence outlines the defendant’s version of the facts. The defendant may admit to some allegations but deny others.
  1. Counter-claim

  • A counter-claim will not always occur. It involves the defendant bringing a separate action against the plaintiff.
  • The counter-claim is often heard in the same trial as the original claim.


The discovery stage allows parties the opportunity to access relevant information and evidence held by the opposing party, with the aim of reaching an early, out-of-court settlement.

  1. Interrogatories

  • The interrogatories stage involves each party writing down a list of questions, which request more information from the other party in order to gain a deeper understanding of the opposing case.
  1. Notice of discovery

  • A notice of discovery is a demand for relevant documents, such as medical and expert reports.
  1. Oral discovery

  • Parties may request that the opposing party orally answers questions that they may have.

10.  Medical examination

  • The defendant may ask the plaintiff to be examined by a medical expert at a specific time and place.

Directions hearings

Directions hearings are hearings in which the presiding judge oversees the pre-trial stages. The judge gives instructions and orders to the parties that he or she thinks will assist in achieving a prompt, effective, and fair resolution. For instance, judge may compel the parties to attend mediation to encourage settlement before the official trial. Directions hearings often cover much of the discovery stage of the pre-trial process. The judge may, for instance, establish time frames for procedures (such as interrogatories) to be completed.

The purpose of directions hearings is to inform parties and allow them to prepare their cases in a prompt, economical manner, while encouraging out of court settlement. However, these hearings can often lead to delays, particularly in the document exchange stage. Directions hearings rely on parties to cooperate.

See also:

Purposes of civil pre-trial procedures