Glossary of legal terms

I have put together the meaning of legal terms you are likely to come across in the course of a claim.

Barrister

A qualified legal professional who is a member of an Inns of Court. The barrister will review the case at certain key stages and prepare written documents and advise and represent you in court.

Civil litigation

This simply means claims that do not involve the criminal justice system. It encompasses all things from mortgage repossessions through to building disputes and of course includes medical claims.

Claimant

This is the injured party who is seeking compensation.

Conference

This is a meeting at which your solicitor, your junior barrister, and, if appropriate, your QC will attend. Others may also attend such as the experts instructed in the case. The purpose of the conference is to explore the case in detail. You will usually be asked to attend.

Counsel

This is another name for a barrister or a  QC (whether junior or senior).

Defence

This is a formal court document which will reply to the Particulars of Claim that has been issued and served against the hospital/doctor.

Defendant

This is the accused party, who the Claimant says made an error causing their injury.

Expert witnesses

These are medical experts who have been instructed by the individual parties to prepare reports as to what took place and what went wrong.

Instructions

The solicitor must instruct experts to report. The solicitor must instruct barristers (Junior and QC) To advise, to draft papers/court documents, to represent at court hearings.

Judge

The judge more likely than not will have been a barrister, often a QC. The judge will deal with specific applications in respect of the case but also will deal with hearing the trial of the case.

Letter of Claim

This as a formal document which must be sent to the doctors/hospital involved in the claim setting out the circumstances giving rise to the injury and the grounds for the Claim. 

Litigation Friend

This is a person bringing a claim on behalf of someone else who is unable to attend. For example, the parent of an injured child.

Medical negligence

Negligence means an act or a failure to act which is not responsible. Medical negligence therefore means that a member of the medical profession has done something or failed to do something which is not responsible.

Meeting of experts

Each side has to produce independent experts reports. Those reports are exchanged with the other side. Following this the individual experts of like disciplines will meet to discuss their opinions. They will produce a note of the meeting setting out for the court areas of agreement and disagreement.

Offer

Either side can make proposals for settlement of the claim at any stage.

Particulars of Claim

This is a formal court document served by the Claimant's representative (usually their solicitor) on the Defendant (such as a hospital). It details the case against the Defendant.

Pleadings

This is the term used to describe the written documents that are lodged at court as part of the claim. They include the Letter of Claim, the Reasoned Response, the Particulars of Claim and Defence.

QC

This as a senior barrister, the initials currently stand for Queen's Counsel. All other barristers are called junior barristers. The more senior and complex cases will require both a junior barrister and a senior barrister.

Quantum

This means the assessment  of the value of the claim.

Reasoned Response / Letter of Response

When a letter of claim has been served, the hospital and / or individual doctor must reply in a formal way. This reply is known as the Reasoned Response or the Letter of Response.

Round table meeting / Joint Settlement Meeting

The parties to a dispute can arrange to have a meeting. Both sides attend a nominated venue but occupy separate rooms. The solicitors and barristers for both sides will meet in a neutral room.The purpose is to try to see if a satisfactory settlement can be achieved rather than proceeding to a final court hearing.

Solicitor

A qualified legal professional who is a member of the Law Society. The solicitor will have day-to-day conduct of the running of the case.

Split trial

When pursuing a claim for damages, in order to have a successful claim it is necessary for the court to determine a finding a fault on the part of the doctor or hospital. Very often that issue will get dealt with before the damages/compensation are assessed. This is what is known as a split trial. The first part deals with the finding of fault and only if that part is successful will there be a second hearing to determine the level of compensation.

Standard of proof 

It is for the person bringing the claim to prove the case. In a medical claim in order to succeed it is necessary to establish that the care provided fell below an acceptable standard such that the level of care could not be supported by a responsible body of medical opinion.

Witnesses of fact

These are individuals who were personally involved in the events in question. They might include the injured party, the mother of a brain damaged child or the doctor or nurse accused of acting irresponsibly.