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If you are involved in a dispute and decide to take legal action, your matter may be listed before the court for a variety of reasons. Matters are listed before the court and classified as being either a:

  • mention;
  • directions hearing;
  • call over; or
  • pre-trial review.

This article will explain what a directions hearing is and what you can expect if you have to undertake one in New South Wales (NSW).

What is a Directions Hearing?

A directions hearing is a short court appearance where a registrar or judge will make orders about the next steps of a dispute. 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. The court refers to any subsequent hearings as ‘further directions hearings’. These may come about as a result of failed mediation attempts or a failure to comply with the directions of the court.

Purpose of a Directions Hearing

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

The courts 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 one of the parties. Some of these orders may include:

  • creating a timetable that sets out when each party needs to file and serve additional pleadings;
  • creating 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 supplying those documents to all other parties in the proceedings;
  • creating a timetable for the exchange of expert reports;
  • using telephone and video conferencing facilities;
  • deciding the way to give  evidence (either by affidavit evidence or orally at the trial); and
  • creating a timetable for the filing and service of written submissions.

Procedure

Australian courts take matters to directions hearings with the aim of facilitating a just and cost-effective resolution to the dispute. A party to the proceedings can also make an application to the court that requests a 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.

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 was served on the defendant, the directions hearing occurs either before or after a defence has been filed.

Preparation

It is essential that your solicitor has everything they need to represent you properly at a directions hearing. Your legal representation needs to have full knowledge of the proceedings. Therefore, you must provide them with sufficient instructions. This will 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 organise a proposed timeline with the other party or their legal representatives. 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 lawyer. If you have any questions about directions hearings, contact LegalVision’s litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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