The court will hear a variety of matters, such as when you believe someone owes you money or someone has wronged you.  You can make a claim against a person or against a company or business.

Whether your case is heard in the Magistrates Court, minor civil, general civil, District Court or Supreme Court will depend on your type of case and how much you are claiming.

Minor claim $12,000 or less

This court deals with minor claims, which includes recovering debts of up to $12,000 and Minor Statutory Proceedings, such as relief from neighbourhood disputes like trespass, nuisance or applications under the Fences Act.

These matters are dealt with minimal formality and the parties involved are not entitled to legal representation except in special circumstances.

General claim $12,001 to $100,000

The Civil (General Claims) Division of the Magistrates Court deals with claims of up to $100,000.

The types of claims that will be dealt with by this court includes contractual disputes, debt and personal injury.

Claims over $100,001

Civil Claims over $100,000 can be heard in either the District or Supreme Court.

While they can be heard in the Supreme Court, cost penalties exist if the amount awarded is below a specific amount. This threshold is based on the Type of claim being made.    The threshold is defined in the Uniform Civil Rules 2020.

It is advisable that you seek legal advice before lodging documents if you believe your claim is over $100,000.

Making a claim is when you begin formal legal action against the other party. You make a claim after you have tried the other methods (Final Notice / Letter of Demand) to recover money you believe is owed to you but haven’t been successful. The claim is firstly lodged with the court and then served on the other party. Parties to a civil matter are referred to as Applicants and Respondents.

To commence a case you will be required to lodge a claim electronically via the CourtSA portal.

For information about types of claims, lodging a claim and supporting documentation required as well as other information please visit the CourtSA Help Centre.

Once you have completed the online document it will be saved into your CourtSA account under the ‘Documents’ Tab. The document is given a ‘CIV’ number which will create the formal court file.

You will be required to select a location of where you would like your first hearing to be held. It will be necessary to choose a court location as close to where the claim arose or where the respondent(s) lives. For example if, the dispute were over a car accident, you would choose the courthouse nearest to the other party involved in the accident or the court nearest to where the accident occurred.

To fill out the claim form you will need to know:

  • the amount that you want to claim
  • the correct name and address of the respondent
  • the date(s) of the dispute
  • the reason that you believe you are owed money

If the other party is a company, you will need to have the correct name and registered office address of the company. If you don’t know these details, contact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) as they have details of all registered Australian companies.

If the other party is a business you will need the name of the owner of the business, the correct business name and the business address. If you don’t know these details, contact Consumer and Business Services and they should be able to assist.

Once payment is finalised and approved the documents will be made available to you and it will be your responsibility to notify and serve all required parties with the claim unless otherwise chosen. You can choose your preferred method of service at the time of lodging the initial case via the online CourtSA portal.

There are three ways to serve a claim on the respondent:

  1. Party – The Applicant serves the documents by way of post, email or in person.
  2. Legal Representative – serves the documents on behalf of their client (the applicant).
  3. Sheriff  service – A fee is required per person to be served.

It does not cost you anything for you to serve the claim on the respondent by post or email.

If you would like a sheriff’s officer to serve the claim, there will be a fee involved, payment is processed at the time of completing the initial case via the online CourtSA portal.

Please visit the CourtSA Help Centre for further assistance on lodging a claim via the CourtSA online portal.

Matter is resolved in 28 days

If the respondent pays you the money or you both agree to settle for another amount, then the matter has been resolved. You don’t need to take any further court action unless they fail to pay you the amount they agreed. You must inform the registry if this has occurred.

Arrangements for agreed payments should be made between both parties and put in writing. Once payment arrangements have been made, you may choose to sign an Enforceable Payment Agreement. This acknowledges that the respondent has agreed to pay and sets out the arrangements you have made with them for payment to be made.

Claim is contested

The respondent may wish to contest your claim. This is done by filing a defence via the online CourtSA portal. The defence will contain statements as to why the respondent disagrees with your claim. It may also state where the respondent agrees with what you have said. It is a document to let you know what their position is so that the matter can proceed with both parties knowing what the other intends to say about the issue.

Alternatively, the respondent may wish to file a defence and counterclaim. A counterclaim will state reasons why the respondent believes you owe them money. A counterclaim is a claim made by the respondent against you. It is like the respondent filing a separate claim, in the way in which you filed your claim, but for the sake of convenience it is dealt with in the same matter.

A counterclaim will not always be lodged. It will only happen when the respondent believes that they have an action against you. If a counterclaim is lodged the respondent must serve it on you either in person or sent by the court.

No response is received

After you have waited 28 days, if the respondent has not made any response to your claim, you can ask the court for judgment to be entered in your favour.

To do this you will need to:

  • log into your CourtSA account and request a Default Judgement against the respondent.
  • provide the affidavit of Proof of Service if you have served the claim yourself.

Visit the CourtSA Help Centre for further assistance on how to lodge a Default Judgment. Alternatively you can call the CourtSA Registry on +618 8 8204 2444 or the Legal Services Commission for Legal advice on 1300 366 424.

You are in charge of your claim, not the court.

Judgment will not be entered in your favour without initiating this process via the online CourtSA portal or at a Court Registry.

If you have judgment entered in your favour because the respondent didn’t respond to your claim, the respondent is able to make an application to the court to have judgment set aside.

To have the judgment set aside, the respondent must convince the court that there are good reasons why the respondent didn’t answer your claim and that the respondent has an argument against your claim. The respondent cannot simply apply to avoid payment. There must be a reason. You will be notified if this has occurred.

If judgment is set aside, the matter will continue in the court process. If judgment is not set aside, then the judgment in your favour stands as a judgment of the court and you are able to try recover the amount owed to you.

​A directions hearing is an informal court appearance. A directions hearing may be heard by a Magistrate or Registrar of the court.  It will take place if you have not been able to resolve the dispute yourselves after the formal legal action has started. A directions hearing is held to look at the direction that the matter is heading in the courts and to discuss with the parties their options to resolve the matter. The purpose is to discover the position of each party and whether there is any possibility of settling any of the issues. If the matter cannot be settled, it may be set down for mediation or for a trial.

The court will post a notice to both parties with the date and time of the directions hearing once a defence has been filed with the court. The directions hearing will usually be held about three weeks after the defence has been filed.

Costs

It won’t cost you anything upfront to attend a directions hearing. However, if you are not successful in the end, you might have to pay the other party a small fee for the inconvenience of them attending court. This will be included in the costs of the other party that you will pay if they are successful.

Matters discussed at the hearing

The hearing will determine where each party stands in the action and whether there is any possibility of a resolution. The hearing will encourage both parties to come to an agreement and will provide some assistance to help this happen. If this doesn’t look like happening at the directions hearing, the matter can be sent to mediation if both parties agree to it or a date for a trial will be set. A directions hearing may be able to resolve some of the issues between the parties in order to limit the issues to argue about at the trial.

Attendance

If a directions hearing is set, you must attend. If the person who brought the claim (applicant) doesn’t attend, the respondent may ask the court to dismiss the claim. If the respondent doesn’t attend, the applicant can ask the court to enter judgment against them and be awarded the amount they claimed plus any costs incurred.

If you have genuine problems in attending on that day contact the CourtSA Registry on 8204 2444 and they will be able to assist you in what steps you will need to take. It is very important that you call and let the court know if you won’t be able to attend to avoid having your claim dismissed or having judgment entered against you. Try to call as soon as you know that you won’t be able to attend and don’t wait until the morning of the hearing, if you know in advance. If you are ill, it is a good idea to obtain a medical certificate from a doctor in case the court wants to see proof as to why you didn’t attend.

Documents required

Bring any documents to support your claim to the directions hearing. You don’t need to bring your witnesses to the hearing. It is a good idea to bring a pen and paper to make notes.

After the hearing

If you come to an agreement at the directions hearing, the matter will be resolved between the parties.

If you do not come to an agreement, the matter will be listed for mediation or for a trial. The arrangements for mediation or the trial will be made at the directions hearing and you will also receive a letter from the registry with the date in writing.

After the directions hearing, you and your lawyer should now prepare for the next step in the litigation process, which is the conciliation conference. The court can give you a date for this about a month from the first directions hearing. Between now and the conciliation conference you and your lawyer should assess the evidence that you will be able to bring to trial and exchange information with the other parties. This is done through processes known as ‘discovery’ (listing all relevant documents) and ‘inspection’ (which allows each side to see the documents). Each party can ask for further and better particulars of the claim or defence. If other parties may have caused the problem that is the subject of the litigation, they can be joined by third party proceedings.

As a result of this process you and your advisers should have a good grasp of your prospects of success by the conciliation conference. The first purpose of that conference is to attempt to arrive at a settlement or compromise of the action. If that can be achieved, then the matter is at an end.

If the matter cannot be settled, then it will go to trial. The court will fix a trial date, usually about eight weeks after the conciliation conference.

The court will expect you to think about how to simplify or limit the issues for trial. Trials are very expensive and should focus on the real issues and not on peripheral issues. You should work out ways of avoiding calling unnecessary evidence and limit the number of witnesses.

The Uniform Civil Rules 2020 provide several ways of dealing with routine matters on how to provide evidence before the court without actually calling witnesses.

If you are going to rely on experts, it will be necessary to obtain a written report from them and give that to the other party not less than 2 business days before the hearing date . It is highly desirable that experts’ reports be agreed. They are very expensive to call as witnesses.

It is very important that you make realistic offers to the other side to settle the matter. These should be formally recorded at the conciliation conference or else it can affect your entitlement to or liability for party/party costs.