In South Australia, the Magistrates Court hears a vast variety of different matters. The Court has jurisdiction to hear everything from fence disputes, debt claims, unclaimed goods and Strata Title complaints to criminal cases.
However, the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court and what is (or is not) permitted varies depending on the type of claim which has been brought.
What is considered a Minor Civil Claim?
The Court has a Minor Civil Claim division. That part of the Magistrates Court hears claims for debts or disputes about money which involves sums that are less than $12,000.00.
There are also some Statutory Proceedings which are heard as though they were a Minor Civil Claim, such as claims under:
- the Fences Act 1975
- the Second-Hand Vehicle Dealers Act 1995
- the Retail and Commercial Leases Act 1995
- the Building Work Contractors Act 1995
These claims commonly commence as Statutory Proceedings, although there are exceptions to that if the claim amount is more than $12,000.00 but less than $100,000.00. If that is the case, at that upper limit, the dispute is usually heard in the District Court although it may be necessary to commence the claim in the Magistrates Court notwithstanding that.
Why does it matter what Court a dispute is heard in?
Aside from the fact that if you start your claim in the wrong Court (or even in the right Court but in the wrong jurisdiction) it could simply be dismissed, there are also significant cost and representation considerations to take into account.
When must cases be self-represented?
The purpose of the Minor Civil Claims jurisdiction is to require parties to be self-represented, to minimise legal costs. If your claim is less than $12,000.00 in value, it's likely you will have to present your case to the Court yourself, and that the costs which you will recover for your time and effort of doing so will be minimal. While a lawyer can assist you in that process, you should not expect to recover any of the fees which you have spent on that lawyer nor to be allowed to have them stand up and speak for you in Court at trial.
Should you see a lawyer for Minor Civil Claims?
The answer is maybe...
A letter from a lawyer setting out the claim and the basis for it (before legal proceedings are even issued) can sometimes be enough to get you paid, or at least, open up a discussion around how it should occur.
Whilst the amount in dispute may be minimal, the circumstances of how the dispute arose and the legal issues relating to that may be complicated. If the matter cannot be resolved by agreement, then having a lawyer draft the claim and advise you on the legal steps and correct legal position may save a lot of your time and make it easier for the Court to follow any legal technicalities of your case.
It is difficult to argue in favour of your rights and position at law if you don’t know what they are. You should certainly always consider getting legal advice before stepping into Court, whether as a self-represented litigant or otherwise.
Andersons Solicitors and Minor Civil Claims
At Andersons Solicitors, we are mindful of legal costs and we understand that as a self-represented litigant in a Minor Civil Claim, our fees to you will likely not be recoverable by you if you succeed in your claim. Nevertheless, we believe that we can give you prompt and cost effective advice about your rights and the best way to go about presenting your complaint to the Court, irrespective of amount and jurisdiction.
Need advice on a Minor Civil Claim? Contact Andersons Solicitors today.