If you have been served with a statement of claim, you need to act promptly. Crucially, if you fail to respond, the court may enter a default judgment against you. Overall, the steps you should take to respond will depend on your circumstances and the type of claim. This article sets out the court processes and steps you should take after being served a statement of claim.

1. File a Defence and Cross-Claim

The clock starts ticking after you are served a statement of claim. You will have 28 days from being served to file your defence. Assuming you dispute the statement of claim, your first steps should be to seek legal advice and to prepare, file and serve your defence.

You should obtain legal advice before preparing your defence. While you may know how to explain your case, there are strict court rules surrounding defence preparation and what should be contained in a cross-claim. Many people who represent themselves can make errors such as:

  • failing to respond to paragraphs, which the court may treat as you admitting liability;
  • submitting evidence together with pleadings (pleadings should only consist of your arguments and defences); and
  • not understanding the various laws which apply to the case.

If you want to dispute and counter the other party’s case, you can submit a cross-claim alongside your defence. Your cross-claim should set out the compensation you are asking for and the details of how you calculated that amount. You will also need to submit this within 28 days.

2. Attend the Directions Hearing

After filing your defence, the matter will be listed for hearing before a registrar or judge for directions to set out the timetable of the matter. This will set out the steps each party must take before the case can be heard and determined by a judge. Generally, this will occur within six weeks of the date of filing your defence.

At the directions hearing the court may also set dates for:

  • the return of any subpoenas;
  • a trial;
  • a review (which enables the court to check the case’s progress); or
  • a second directions hearing.

When a statement of claim is filed in the District Court, the court allocates a pre-trial conference date. This is usually held two months after the claim has been filed. At this conference, the court makes all directions it considers appropriate to ensure the case will be ready for the status conference. The court may or may not set a trial date and/or order the parties to mediate by a certain date.

A status conference allows the judge to set the trial date and obtain updated information of the parties.

3. Attend the Post-Directions Hearing

The events after the first directions hearing will vary with each case. There may be multiple general directions hearings between the first direction hearing and the review hearing (or the pre-trial conference and status conference if the matter is heard in the District Court).

If you have not already submitted your cross-claim with your defence, then preparing this may be your next step. 

Other helpful actions you can take, which may be ordered by the court, include:

  • filing and serving amended pleadings: if you have been granted extra time to amend or flesh out your defence or cross-claim, then this may be your first priority after the directions hearing;
  • requesting and responding to requests for further and better particulars: pleadings must give sufficient information to enable each party to respond to the allegation or understand the defence. Parties may exchange responses and requests for information voluntarily or by court order;
  • preparing evidence: the court may make orders specifying when you and the other party must serve each other evidence. This may be affidavit (written statement) evidence or evidence from an expert witness. Generally, each party must provide copies of their evidence to every other party at least four weeks before the review date; and
  • settlement negotiations: you and the other party will most likely negotiate in the background to try and reach a settlement. A settlement can be reached at any stage of the proceedings. The court may also order the parties to attend either a settlement conference or mediation by a certain date.

4. Attend Further Directions, Call Over or Pre-Trial Review

The court will also set matters down for further directions, call over or pre-trial reviews. The purpose of these is to ensure the parties have complied with court directions and are ready for trial. If you fail to comply, the court may make orders to:

  • dismiss the proceedings;
  • refuse to accept a defence; or
  • fine the party causing the delays.

If a further directions hearing or call over has been set down, you can expect this to occur within 28 days of the first directions hearing.

In the District Court, you will attend a status conference around 8 to 11 months after the date the statement of claim was filed. You may be ordered to attempt alternate dispute resolution methods such as mediation or a settlement conference.

5. Attend the Final hearing

After receiving a statement of claim, you can expect that most matters will reach a final hearing within:

  • 9 to 12 months in the Local Court; and
  • 12 to 18 months in the District Court.

Prior to this hearing, parties will be required to submit to the court:

  • case summaries;
  • statements of agreed facts and issues; and
  • final submissions.

Key Takeaways

If you are served with a statement of claim, you should not expect the matter to be finalised quickly. You should obtain legal advice before you file your defence and any cross-claim.

After filing your defence, you can expect the court to make various orders to ensure the matter is prepared for the hearing. However, you should always attempt to settle the matter outside of court. If you have received a statement of claim and require legal advice, get in touch with LegalVision’s litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

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