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Small Claims and the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court


Small Claims and the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court

Of all the courts in South Australia, the Magistrates Court is the one with the “lowest” jurisdiction. That is, it hears matters which involve relatively low-valued claims.

For example, this could relate to neighbourhood disputes, fences disputes, debts or other monetary matters.

As a result of the kind of matters the jurisdiction encompasses, the Magistrates Court is extremely busy. Necessarily, there are courtrooms in various suburbs and regional towns throughout South Australia. The main Magistrates Court building is near the south-eastern corner of Victoria Square, in the Adelaide City courts district.

The jurisdiction and function of the Magistrates Court, like all Australian courts, exists as a result of an Act of Parliament.

The Magistrates Court also publishes Rules from time to time. This is done in consultation with the legal profession, other interested parties, and members of the public. These Magistrates Court Rules are intended to ensure smooth case-flow management and the efficient conduct of litigation in the court.

Changes to the Magistrates Court Rules in 2013

In 2013, the Magistrates Court Rules were given a significant update. These revised Rules were considerably different from the previous version and any claims filed since July 2013 must comply with the 2013 Magistrates Court Rules rather than the 1992 Magistrates Court Rules.

Since 2013 there have been several revisions made to the Rules, most significantly are perhaps those changes to the jurisdictional limit of the Magistrates Court.

In July 2013 the upper limit where matters can be dealt with by the Magistrates Court was increased to $100,000 – it was previously $40,000 for most commercial matters.

How much money is now considered a "minor or small claim"?

The above limit has remained, but there has been further adjustment to the monetary amount allowed for a “Minor Claim”, often referred to as “small claims”.

The Court now deals with Minor Claims as those involving debt recoveries up to $12,000 or for minor statutory matters such as a fencing dispute between neighbours.

"...unless the Court agrees that special circumstances exist, the parties involved must represent themselves… that is, without lawyers"

The Minor Civil Claims Jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court (sometimes referred to as the “Small Claims Court”) serves an important function. However, unless the Court agrees that special circumstances exist, the parties involved must represent themselves… that is, without lawyers

This is because of a general view that having lawyers represent for claims of less than $12,000 may not be cost-effective. Accordingly, these matters are dealt with in a less procedural manner.

Despite this, Andersons Solicitors understand that $12,000 is a lot of money. For many people, the idea of going to court over that sum (or even a lesser amount) without the assistance of a lawyer can be daunting.

"Whilst in most circumstances we cannot represent you at hearings for Minor Civil Claims in the Magistrates Court, we can attend at court with you ..."

Whilst in most circumstances we cannot represent you at hearings for Minor Civil Claims in the Magistrates Court, we can attend at court with you and provide assistance to ensure you understand the process and your rights.

We can also undertake all other work which a lawyer would traditionally perform, such as preparing your claim and conducting negotiations which take place outside of the courtroom.

Whilst the Minor Civil Claims Jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court is less formal than the General Claim jurisdiction of the Court (for claims of $12,001 to $100,000), if you do not have a properly prepared case it is entirely possible that you will not succeed in your claim.

You should always consider seeking legal advice prior to and during any litigation, whether it is in the Minor Civil Claims Jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court or elsewhere.

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Please note, this Blog is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Andersons Solicitors. It relates to South Australian legislation. Andersons Solicitors is a medium sized law firm servicing metropolitan Adelaide and regional South Australia across all areas of law for individuals and businesses.