How to resolve civil disputes

An Introduction to Civil Litigation and Dispute Resolution

Did you enter into a contract (written or oral) and encounter problems? Did things go bad at a cost? Was there a disagreement over the parties’ obligations or duties? Did the other side fail to action what they are meant to under the contract? If so, there are a number of options to resolve a dispute both inside and outside of Court.

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Settlement between the parties
This is the most recommended and cost effective method when parties have a dispute. By reaching an agreement (often reluctantly), the parties can avoid unnecessary time and costs in Court. The process generally involves correspondences between the disputed parties in an attempt to overcome their differences and eventually come to a legally binding agreement. This can often require lawyers as legal advice can assist parties to see when they are at fault or have a weak case, encouraging such parties to make settlement proposals. However if the parties cannot agree or the responding party does not respond at all, one can take other avenues to resolve the disputes.

Disputes Tribunal
You can start a claim in the Disputes Tribunal (or the Tenancy Tribunal if your matter is related to a tenancy dispute) when your claim is less than $15,000 (or up to $20,000 by consent). As a claimant, you need to submit the Form 1 Claims Form which can be downloaded from Disputes Tribunal New Zealand’s website. It is important to make your claim as simple and succinct as possible annexing relevant and supporting documentation to your claim. Lawyers are not allowed to attend the actual Disputes Tribunal hearing date, but can assist parties in preparing for the date.

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District Court
If your claim is less than $200,000 you can file your claim in your local District Court. A family related matter must be made in the Family Court. This can be started by filing a “Notice of Claim” and “Statement of Claim” in Court and serving the other side. Service is very important. The claimant (the plaintiff) must serve a copy of the “Notice of Claim” and “Statement of Claim” on the other side (the defendant). The defendant then has 25 working days to file a “Statement of Defence” or a “Counter-Claim”. The plaintiff is then required to file a “Plaintiff’s Reply” and “Statement of Defence to the Counter-Claim” (if a Counter-Claim is made by the defendant) within 10 working days.

After the documents are filed and served, the case can then proceed towards a full or short hearing in Court. There may be further steps required such as discovery of further documents or the joining of further parties etc. Before the matter is set for a hearing, Court will normally order a Judicial Settlement Conference where the plaintiff and defendant attend (with lawyers) in a good faith attempt to resolve the dispute face to face with a Judge acting as a mediator. If the matter cannot be resolved at the Judicial Settlement Conference, the Judge will allocate timetabling orders for trial. However settlement can occur at any time up to the date of the hearing.

If your claim is successful and a judgement is obtained, you will need to then enforce the judgement. A successful party often obtains a further costs award for their legal costs to date, but parties should be aware this is normally on a scaled cost set by Court which means they will not recover their full costs (except in some circumstances). Even if you have judgement, enforcement can often be difficult if the other side does not have assets so it is often useful to conduct some research to ensure there is something at the end as you may “win the battle, but lose the war”.

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High Court
The High Court is the highest court in New Zealand which starts claims before any appeals (to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court) and civil claims over $200,000. A claim is commenced by the plaintiff filing and serving a “Notice of Claim” and “Statement of Claim”. The defendant then has 25 working days to file and serve a “Statement of Defence” or a “Counter-Claim”. The High Court is more formal compared to the District Court and you will notice a difference in even the atmosphere as the lawyers are required to wear formal robes. One must go to the High Court for certain aspects of law including bankruptcy, liquidation of a company, trust related issues or when appealing a decision from the District Court. We can assist you in all stages of litigation including the High Court.

Resolution of a dispute is usually a stressful process for the people involved regardless of the nature of the dispute. The litigation team at Queen City Law fully understand the difficulties of the clients and therefore aim to provide suitable advice to cater to every client’s different needs. We will assess the strengths and merits of your case to deliver the best outcome for you. Based on our wealth of experience, we will provide you the professional advice you need in any aspect of civil disputes.

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