From 1 July 2014 changes have been introduced to the District
Court claims process. The changes reverse many reforms introduced
in 2009 which have proven to be unsuccessful. We have returned to a
position where there is close alignment between the processes in
the District and High Courts. This is a welcome development to the
legal profession and other users of the District Court.
Out with the forms
Under the 2009 reforms any party making a claim in the District
Court was to fill out plain English forms. These included the Form
2 Notice of claim, Form 3 Response by Defendant,
and the Information Capsule. An objective in introducing
the forms was to provide guidance to non-lawyers preparing their
own court documents. Though the forms were supposed to be in plain
English they were largely incomprehensible and making sense of them
proved to be overwhelming even for some lawyers.
Public consultation regarding the 2009 Rules in practice
revealed mixed feedback. Many felt Court claims were not being
articulated clearly and succinctly. The 2009 Rules did not appear
to achieve one of their aims to increase access to the Court by lay
litigants. Lawyers, lenders and collection agents continued to file
the majority of Court claims.
Back to traditional pleadings
The 2014 changes require most proceedings to be commenced by a
statement of claim which is the document used in the High
Court. Parties must clearly state the legal basis for their claim
or risk it being struck out. As well as filing a statement of
claim, parties must file other documents, including a list of
documents that they rely upon. At the other party's request,
all documents within this list must be disclosed. In this way a
person facing a claim can know at the outset exactly what is being
alleged and relied upon by the person bringing the claim.
New time frames
The 2014 changes provide new time frames to exchange documents
at the outset of a proceeding. Under the 2009 Rules it could take
anywhere from 16 to 42 weeks from the date of filing and serving a
claim to exchange the required forms before the matter might be
pursued in Court. Now the prescribed time frames have been brought
into line with the High Court, giving a defendant 25 working days
to file a defence to a claim.
Furthermore, as in the High Court after a defence is filed, the
Court steps in and plays a more active case management role to
ensure that the matter is advanced promptly to trial or a
Better access to summary judgment
Summary judgment applications allow a person bringing a claim to
seek immediate judgment where there is no arguable defence to the
claim. This process was discouraged under the 2009 Rules but has
now been given new life. The 2014 changes have lifted the
restrictions that existed on making such applications allowing a
person making a claim to seek summary judgment at the outset and up
until 10 working days after being served with a defence. This is a
useful method by which the Court can prevent a party wasting time
and money raising unmeritorious defences.
Judicial settlement conferences and trials
The 2014 changes have retained some features of the 2009 Rules,
including the judicial settlement conference, and the short and
simplified trial procedures. These features continue to be unique
to the District Court, to encourage settlement of disputes and
alternative trial formats for disputes involving uncomplicated
subject matters and/or with modest amounts at stake.
Future increase in District Court jurisdiction
Further changes to the District Court's jurisdiction may
also be ahead. The Judicature Modernisation Bill proposes (inter
alia) to increase the District Court's jurisdiction from
$200,000 to $350,000. The bill has been recommended by the Justice
and Electoral Select Committee subject to a number of amendments,
but is not yet passed into law.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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