The District Court Rules govern the process of bringing civil proceedings in the District Court for amounts of up to $200,000. As from 1 November 2009, that process will radically change.
The focus of the new District Court Rules (Rules) is to encourage the just, economical and inexpensive determination of claims.
Summary of major changes
- The plaintiff will not file a Statement of Claim and the defendant will not file a Statement of Defence.
- There will be no discovery of documents - the current process whereby each party swears an affidavit listing all the documents in its possession that are relevant to the proceedings will no longer be available.
- Each party must serve an 'information capsule' on the other party before the proceeding is allocated a hearing.
- Most proceedings will be allocated to either a judicial settlement conference or a short trial - full trials that are the norm now will largely be the exception.
- Pre-trial procedures will be strictly limited.
- New time limits will apply.
Commencing a proceeding
Notice of Claim
A plaintiff commences proceedings by filing and serving a Notice of Claim. This is a generic form and will be available on-line. The plaintiff must sign a statement in the Notice of Claim verifying the claim against the defendant.
The defendant has 30 working days to serve a Response. This is not filed in the Court. If the defendant fails to serve a Response, the plaintiff may seek judgment by default.
Once the Response is served, the plaintiff has 30 working days to serve the plaintiff's information capsule.The information capsule includes a summary of what your witnesses will say in support of your case and a list of the essential documents in your possession that you intend to rely on. The information capsule is not filed. After service of the plaintiff's information capsule, the defendant has 30 working days to respond by serving the defendant's information capsule meeting the same criteria.
Allocation of the proceeding
The allocation process begins by the plaintiff filing a Notice of Pursuit.
The Court will allocate a proceeding to:
- The Disputes Tribunal (if less than $15,000).
- A short trial - suitable for claims that can proceed to a hearing quickly, that involve relatively uncomplicated issues or modest amounts, or are unlikely to exceed a single day's hearing time.
- A judicial settlement conference. If the parties do not settle at the judicial settlement conference, the Court will allocate either a:
- Simplified trial - suitable for cases with one or two issues. Evidence is to be given by affidavit with strict time limits for cross-examination.
- Full trial - available for complicated cases or cases with precedent value.
Implications for your business
- Faster resolution of proceedings - the new shorter time limits encourage prompt settlement. Parties that do not abide by the time frames may have their proceeding discontinued or judgment entered against them.
- More reliance on your own evidence - as the Rules do away with the discovery of documents process, parties will be more reliant on their own evidence to negotiate a good settlement or obtain judgment in their favour.
- Less cost - the speedier process required to obtain settlement or judgment will offset the likely increase in cost at the beginning of the proceeding preparing the mandatory information capsule.
- A potential increase in lay litigants - the court forms and processes are more self-explanatory and are intended to create easier access to justice for self-represented litigants.
- Judicial settlement conferences will be the norm - they will be a prerequisite before a claim is allocated to a full trial or simplified trial. Strict time limits apply to judicial settlement conferences
- Pre-trial applications will be minimal.
- Debt collection will change to being substantially default judgment based. Summary judgment will only be available once a judicial settlement conference has occurred and failed.
The Rules come into force on 1 November 2009.
The existing procedures may favour some types of proceedings, whereas the new procedures may favour others. Businesses contemplating issuing proceedings now may wish to consider whether to defer commencing proceedings until the new Rules are in force.
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This publication is intended as a first point of reference and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to any particular circumstances.