If you are involved in a legal dispute and decide to commence litigation, your matter may be listed before the court for a variety of reasons. Matters are listed before the court and classified as being a mention, a directions hearing, a call over or a pre-trial review. In this article, we look at directions hearings, setting out the purpose of a directions hearing and what you can expect from one.

What is a Directions Hearing?

A Directions Hearing is a short court appearance in which a presiding Registrar or Judge will make orders about the direction or next steps of the dispute at hand. The first hearing is called a ‘first directions hearing’ and usually serves the purpose of alerting the parties to the commencement of a case and directs them to Alternative Dispute Resolution such as Mediation. Any subsequent hearings are known as ‘further directions hearings’, which may come about as a result of a failed mediation attempt or a failure by one or more of the parties to comply with directions of the court.

Purpose of a Directions Hearing

The purpose of a directions hearing is so that the court and disputing parties can address any procedural matters before the matter goes to trial. A Registrar or Judge will usually preside over the hearing, depending on which court you appear.

The courts have a very wide range of powers and will make appropriate orders with an aim of reducing the cost and time of proceedings. The court can make a range of orders relevant to the proceedings, either by choice or upon request from a party to the proceedings, including:

  • A timetable setting out when each party needs to file and serve additional pleadings;
  • A timetable for the exchange of affidavit evidence and witness statements;
  • The filing of ‘scott schedules’ (relevant to construction matters only);
  • The making of admissions;
  • The filing of a list of documents and the subsequent provision of those documents to all other parties to the proceedings;
  • A timetable for the exchange of expert reports;
  • The use of telephone and video conferencing facilities;
  • The manner in which evidence is to be given (either by affidavit evidence or orally at the trial); and
  • A timetable for the filing and service of written submissions.

Procedure

The courts in NSW (and the rest of Australia) engage in case management processes and list matters with the aim of facilitating a just and cost-effective resolution of the dispute at hand. In some circumstances, a party to the proceedings can also make an application to the court requesting that the matter is listed for directions hearing.

In the General List of the Supreme Court, the first directions hearing is scheduled three months after the matter has entered on the list. The District Court can refer a matter to directions hearings at any stage, including a ‘show cause’ directions hearing.

The Federal Court lists matters for directions hearings at the time when the originating process has been filed. Depending on the date that the originating process has been served on the defendant, the directions hearing can occur either before or after a defence has been filed.

Preparation

It is essential that your solicitor has everything he or she needs to represent you properly at a directions hearing. Your legal representation needs to have full knowledge of the proceedings, and you must provide them with sufficient instructions to enable the court to make appropriate orders in your case.

You should discuss with your solicitor what orders you wish to seek. Your solicitor will also need to discuss with the other party or their legal representatives any proposed timetable. Parties can agree upon a timetable or schedule by mutual consent. If consent orders have been filed before the directions hearing, the parties might not be required to attend.

Key Takeaways

When a legal dispute arises, and you approach the courts to decide your case, you may have to appear for a directions hearing. If you are subject to a directions hearing, it is important to know the purpose and process involved and to obtain good legal advice from an experienced litigation lawyer. Questions? Get in touch with our disputes team on 1300 544 755.

Vanessa Swain

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