It is a common misconception that if you lose in court, you have an automatic right to appeal the decision. However, this is not the case. In New South Wales (NSW), there are limited circumstances in which you can appeal a Local Court decision. The NSW Local Court hears criminal matters and civil disputes where the money claimed falls under $100,000. This article sets the situations where you may appeal a NSW Local Court decision.

Small Claims Division

The Small Claims Division hears matters where the money or asset in question amounts to $10,000 or less. Given the low value of claims and the significant cost of running court cases, many parties choose not to appeal findings in this division. Nevertheless, there are limited circumstances where decisions made in Small Claims Division may be appealed.

If you are successful in appealing, your matter can then be heard in the NSW District Court. You have 28 days from the date the Local Court grants an appeal order to lodge your notice of appeal. Alternatively, if the initial decision was made by a court registrar instead of a magistrate, you can apply to have your decision reviewed by a magistrate of the Local Court.

General Division

The General Division hears matters where the money involved in the claim ranges between $10,001 and $100,000. This division of the Local Court hears matters such as:

  • minor criminal offences;
  • loan agreement disputes
  • debt recovery proceedings;
  • compensation from car accidents; and
  • services which were paid for but not provided.

Matters can be appealed to the Supreme Court of NSW after permission has been granted by the Local Court. However, if you appeal on the basis that the magistrate interpreted the law incorrectly, then you will not require the Local Court’s permission.

Appealing a Local Court Decision

If you are unsuccessful in a Local Court matter, you can appeal the magistrate’s decision if:

  1. you have been denied procedural fairness;
  2. the magistrate made a decision outside their jurisdiction; or
  3. the magistrate made an error of law or fact.

1. Procedural Fairness

Procedural fairness refers to whether or not there was fairness in the procedure of the case. However, your right to procedural fairness will not have been breached just because you believe the result was unfair.

Whether there has been a denial of procedural fairness will depend on the circumstances of your case. Generally, not affording you a fair opportunity to put your case to the court will amount to a breach. For example, the magistrate should allow you the opportunity to respond to new evidence from the other party.

2. Jurisdictional Error

A jurisdictional error occurs when the decision-maker did not have the power to make a particular decision but made the decision anyway.

For example, if a matter was being heard in the Small Claims Division despite the asset in question being valued over $10,000, the magistrate would be obligated to transfer the hearing to the General Division. However, if the magistrate presiding over the matter purposefully or accidentally continued to hear the matter, they would be acting outside their jurisdiction.

Having the matter heard in the correct forum is crucial because slightly different rules apply to the different divisions.

3. Errors of Fact and Law

If the General Division hears your matter, you may appeal on the basis of an error of law or fact. The difference between these concepts is that:

  • question of fact refers to whether something has happened or will happen. For example, if the matter involved a traffic violation, a question of fact for the magistrate to settle may be whether the traffic light was green or red; and
  • question of law involves identifying, interpreting and applying a legal test to the particular facts and circumstances of the case. Generally, a question of law arises when a decision-maker’s interpretation and application of the law is in dispute.

Overall, the distinction between questions of fact and law can be difficult to determine in each case. Therefore, you should consider engaging legal advice when considering appealing a matter.

Key Takeaways

You cannot appeal a Local Court decision just because you were unsuccessful. In the Small Claims Division, you may attempt to appeal if you have not been granted a fair opportunity to present your case or if a decision-maker acted outside their authority. In the General Division, you can lodge an appeal if the decision-maker incorrectly interpreted or applied the law.

Lodging an appeal can be a difficult and time-consuming process. If you require assistance in determining whether or not to appeal or drafting a notice of appeal in the NSW Local Court, get in touch with LegalVision’s litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Bonnie-Anne Talese
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