Transcript for the self-represented litigants at County Court of Victoria video.
Screen title: A guide for self-represented litigants in the Civil Jurisdiction of the County Court
Judge: This short video provides an overview of the civil process you need to follow if you decide to bring a matter to the County Court of Victoria.
Civil law is a branch of law dealing with disputes between individuals or companies. People who choose to represent themselves in court are known as self-represented litigants.
This video does not provide legal advice. It is recommended that you obtain legal advice if you are considering starting legal proceedings. Taking a matter to court is a serious decision which can have lasting consequences for you, your family, your business or future employment. Going to court can be a costly process even if you win your case. And a reminder, courts in Australia are open to the public and you will often see students, public and members of the media sitting in court to watch proceedings.
Screen title: Benefits and risks
Judge: Any decision comes with benefits and risks. The benefit of representing yourself means that you are in control of your case from beginning to end. You are responsible for the preparing of court documents, gathering evidence, locating witnesses and arguing your case before a judge. If the Court decides in your favour you are entitled to recover costs incurred in bringing your matter to court from the losing party. These might be court fees or a claim for loss of income. However, there can be unseen costs to you such as the time spent preparing your case and the associated emotional strain can have a lasting effect. If you lose your case, you may have to pay the other parties’ costs. This might include their legal fees or loss of income. Costs can be very significant.
Screen title: Overview of civil proceedings
Judge: If you decide to bring a civil matter to court there are court procedures and schedules that you must follow. Before we explain the process let’s start with some legal words that you need to know. When you bring a matter to court you are known as ‘the plaintiff’ and this term will be used on all court documents. The opposing party is called ‘the defendant’. Sometimes the defendant may have their own claim against the plaintiff, this is known as a counter claim.
There are six stages in the court process for civil matters. These are:
For detailed information about each stage we recommend that you read the County Court guide for self-represented litigants. This guide is published on the Court’s website and is also available from the court registry.
Screen title: Preparing your case
Judge: Before you file any documents with the Court you should read the Civil Procedure Act 2010 and the County Court Civil Procedure Rules 2008. These documents set out the legal requirements you must follow. This includes what forms to use, information to include on the forms, as well as the correct format for filing documents with the Court. The Act and the rules are available free of charge at the Australian Legal Information Institute website known as Austlii. If you don’t have access to the internet you should contact a community legal centre for assistance.
Screen title: Starting a civil proceeding as a plaintiff
Judge: There are four steps to start a civil proceeding at the County Court. Firstly, a writ or an originating motion is filed with the Court. The plaintiff must also give a copy to each defendant and keep a copy for themselves. Secondly, a request to enter a list form must be completed and submitted to the Court. Thirdly, the Overarching Obligation Certification Form 4A and Proper Basis Certification Form 4B must be lodged with the Court. And finally, a statement of claim must be lodged with the Court within 30 days.
The statement of claim is the most important document for your case and there are rules which describe the format for lodging this document with the Court. Briefly these are: each fact as you see it must be typed or written in a separate numbered paragraph. At the end of the statement in a separate paragraph you must state what action or penalty you want the Court to make in your favour and against the defendant. A typical claim would describe what you would like the other party to do and any claim for costs you’ve incurred for bringing the matter to court. The documents are then dated, and stamped or sealed and given a court reference number. You must quote the court reference number on all future correspondence with the Court. Once the writ or originating motion has been filed with the Court, it is your responsibility to ensure that the party you are making the claim against receives a copy of these documents. There is a legal process and timeframe for doing this. Remember, a description of the process is described in the County Court guide for self-represented litigants in the County Court available on the Court’s website.
Sometimes special forms must be used to lodge your case with the Court. These forms are available on the Court’s website www.countycourt.vic.gov.au or at the court registry. You must complete the correct form and follow the instructions on the form. In some instances, the Court charges a fee to file the form with the Court.
Screen title: Filing documents with the Court
Judge: Your first contact with the Court will be with the court registry. The court registry is where all documents relating to any matter before the Court are sealed, logged and filed in the court’s case file.
Registry staff can assist you with finding forms and court lists but registry staff cannot:
It is important that you realise that other parties, such as the media and other members of the public, may view case files.
Screen title: Can the dispute be settled before trial?
Judge: Disputes can be settled before the trial. This can occur at any time from when a case is commenced, right through to the trial itself and sometimes during the trial. If your case settles before trial it is the plaintiff’s responsibility to advise the Court and submit the signed consent orders to the Court.
Screen title: The Court proceeding
Judge: Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant, if you do not come to court on the scheduled date the Judge may dismiss the case and order the party who did not attend to pay costs.
Screen title: Judgment
Judge: The Judge may make a decision as soon as the trial finishes or may adjourn and give judgment at a later date. If a judgment goes against you, you may be ordered to pay money to the other party. This is known as a debt.
Screen title: Location
Judge: Finally, here are some important contact details for you.
The Melbourne County Court is located at 250 William Street, Melbourne, on the corner of Lonsdale street. The Court is near Flagstaff Station. Buses and trams run along Lonsdale and William Streets.
If you live in regional Victoria, your matter may be heard at the County Court nearest to where you live. These court sittings are called circuits. A list of circuit towns is available on the Court’s website.
Screen title: Contact details
Judge: A County Court registry operates at all County Court locations. In Melbourne the registry is located on the ground floor. The registry is open on weekdays from 9am to 4pm.
For queries in relation to the filing of documents or applications call 03 8636 6508.
For queries regarding hearing dates call 03 8636 6515; facsimile 03 8636 6051.
For queries regarding administrative mentions call the Directions Group on 03 8636 6690 email email@example.com.
The County Court website www.countycourt.vic.gov.au has information about filing fees, forms, practice notes, as well as the daily court lists.