Court process

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About civil claims

A civil claim involves formal legal action in a court against a person or organisation.

You can make a claim after you’ve tried other ways to sort out a dispute but haven’t been successful.

Find out more about resolving a dispute without going to court

Once a claim is filed in court, the person who made the claim is known as the plaintiff. The person who the claim is against is called the defendant. They are both called the parties. The case is often called a proceeding.

Even after a civil claim has been filed in court, many civil claims are resolved before they get to a hearing in a court room because the parties reach an agreement between themselves. A judge often helps parties come to an agreement at a settlement conference.

If a case goes to court, the plaintiff must prove their case to the ‘balance of probabilities’ to be successful. This means they must prove to the judge that their version of events is most likely to be true.

Find out more about making a claim in the civil court

Find out more about defending a claim in the civil court

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Deciding who will speak for you in court

You can get a lawyer to represent you in court. If you can’t afford a lawyer you may be able to get legal aid. You can also choose to represent yourself.

Find out more about legal aid

Find out more about representing yourself in the civil court

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Overview of process

Most cases start when a statement of claim is filed. Once the court has processed the statement of claim you have to serve it on the defendant, who has a set amount of time (usually 25 working days) to defend the claim. If they defend it, by filing a statement of defence, the court will arrange a first case management conference, where the judge will talk to both sides and decide what will happen next.

If the defendant doesn’t defend the proceeding, the case can go through the judgment by default process and the case ends.

This is just a summary. If you want more detail, you can:

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Going to court

You will need to prepare for court. This includes things like:

  • giving your documents to the court (this is called filing your documents)
  • serving the other party (giving them copies of the  documents you have filed in court)
  • making affidavits and statutory declarations
  • getting a document witnessed or certified
  • giving the other side copies of your evidence (this is called discovery or disclosure)
  • interpreters, language and disability access.

You might find it helpful to know what to expect at court. For example, the judge, court staff, lawyers, parties and witnesses will be in the court room, and journalists and the public can be there too, except for judicial settlement conferences and judicial directions conferences.

Find out more about going to court

Find out detailed information about what to expect in the court room:

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