The District Court and the High Court are the two most common courts for bringing claims in the field of civil litigation. They cover a wide range of areas including contract, tort, property, equity and so on.
The District Court has a jurisdictional limit of claims for $350,000. Beyond that, claims must be filed in the High Court. Claims that are less than $15,000 are dealt with in the Disputes Tribunal. Lawyers are unable to appear in the Disputes Tribunal, the hearings are more informal and matters are brought to a hearing much more quickly than in the District and High Courts.
A general claim is brought in the District Court and High Court by lodging a statement of claim and notice of proceeding. The statement of claim sets out the essential allegations of the claim. Initial disclosure, being key documents being relied upon in the statement of claim, are provided to the other party.
Once a statement of defence is filed, a case management conference will be convened and various procedural matters will eventually be timetabled including timeframes to exchange lists of relevant documents, complete inspection and provide any further particulars of the claim.
Claims will be set down for hearing or may be allocated a settlement conference. A settlement conference is normally convened with the agreement of both parties. It is like in mediation except that the mediator is the judge. The judge acts as a facilitator and attempts to help the parties negotiate an end to the dispute.
Litigation will take a long time through the courts at least a year to 2 years and can cost a considerable amount, depending on the issues involved in the length of any eventual trial.
The expense of litigation and the uncertainties it can often bring two of the key reasons why parties have increasingly chosen mediation as the preferred alternative dispute resolution method.
Litigation is normally considered a last resort but in cases of urgency, for example, interim injunctions, going to court would be a first resort.
Interim injunctions are sought from the court where it is likely that a defendant is about to take an action which will cause irreparable injury to a plaintiff. They are dealt with quickly and, if granted, the defendant will be restrained from undertaking certain actions pending the outcome of the substantive proceedings.