The District Court Process

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The District Court deals with civil claims for up to $200,000. Any claim smaller than $15,000 is normally heard by the Disputes Tribunal.

Any claim must be made within 6 years of the event the claim is based on. There are certain exceptions so consult a lawyer if you have any doubts whether you are eligible to be bring a claim or not.

Making a civil claim in the District Court
Who may want to make a claim? A civil claim may stem from any number of sources such as:
-       Breach of contract
-       Unpaid debts
-       Disputes between neighbours

Step 1: Filing a Notice of Claim
A notice of claim summarises your claim against the other party. A statement of truth will need to be signed at the end of the claim confirming that the facts are true to the best of your knowledge.

This Notice of Claim should be filed at the District Court closest to where the dispute arose. A filing fee must be paid with the notice of claim.

Step 2: Serving the Notice of Claim on the Defendant
The claimant must organise for the notice of claim to be served on the defendant within 12 months of it being filed in the District Court.

Step 3: Waiting for a response from the Defendant
Once the Notice of Claim has been served, the defendant will have 20 working days to serve a response to your notice of claim.

If the defendant does respond and disputes your claim then you must proceed to step 4.

If the defendant does not respond to your claim in the time limit you can apply for a default judgment. This application must be made within 90 working days of serving the Notice of Claim and includes a filing fee.

Step 4: Serving an ‘Information Capsule’ on the Defendant
An information capsule contains all of the documents that will be relevant to your claim against the defendant. It will also include a summary of evidence from witnesses that you may rely on if the matter was to go to a hearing.

The information capsule needs to be served on the defendant within 20 working days from the date the response was served on you by the defendant.

Step 5: Waiting for an information capsule from the Defendant
The defendant will then have 20 working days to serve their own information capsule on you.

If you do not receive the information capsule within this time limit you can apply for a default judgment or formal proof in the same way as in step 3.

Step 6: Serving a Notice of Pursuit of Claim
A notice of pursuit of claim informs the defendant that you intend to pursue your claim through the court system. You must serve this notice of pursuit of claim within 90 working days of receiving the defendant’s information capsule.

Step 7: Filing documents
Once you have served the notice of pursuit of claim, the response from the defendant, copy of plaintiff and defendant’s information capsules and notice of pursuit of claim must be filed with the court. There is a filing fee.

Step 8: Third Parties and Claim Allocation by a Judge or Registrar
The defendant may wish to bring a third party into the claim. They will have 15 working days from service of the notice of pursuit of claim to do so. Any third party response will be filed and served on all of the parties within 30 working days.

The Judge or Registrar will then consider the facts of the case and allocate one of the methods or a combination of the methods below. This usually takes 15 working days or 30 working days if a third party notice is given.

Short trial: Short one day trials with strict time limits.

Judicial Settlement Conference: Held in chambers where a Judge leads a discussion between the parties in an attempt to reach a settlement or allocate another appropriate trial method.

Simplified Trial: Designed for cases with one or two issues. There are time limits and limits on the numbers of people who can give evidence.

Full Trial: Suitable for cases with a number of complex issues. Full trials follow the same procedure as trials in the High Court.

Things to consider when making a Civil Claim in the District Court
-       Make your lawyer aware of all of the facts involved in the dispute
-       Provide all of the necessary documentation to your lawyer to look over in a timely fashion. This is especially important to do before your lawyer starts preparing a notice of claim and an information capsule.
-       Inform your lawyer of your expectations and the end result you are seeking from the litigation.

If you need assistance making or responding to a
District Court claim, please contact Smith and Partners’ Litigation Law Specialist, Ellen Harbidge  on 09 837 6890 or email ellen.harbidge@smithpartners.co.nz

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