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Civil Law ACT

There are three jurisdictions that deal with civil law in the ACT. These are the Australian Capital Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), the Magistrates Court, and the Supreme Court. Each have specific requirements and can only determine matters that fall within their jurisdiction.

A civil matter where the amount in dispute is less than $25,000 must be heard by ACAT. The Magistrates Court hears claims and disputes with a value of between $25,000 and $250,000. The Supreme Court can determine any matter, but generally hears matters involving more than $250,000, as well as all probate, wills and estate matters.

Civil law encompasses a large range of matters. It is important to obtain legal advice to ensure that your civil matter is commenced in the correct court or tribunal. With the right assistance, many matters can be resolved through mediation or negotiation without the need to initiate court proceedings to get a resolution.

Commencing Civil Proceedings in the ACT

As well as dealing with all general civil disputes involving less than $25,000, ACAT hears matters relating to residential tenancy disputes, retirement villages, energy and water, mental health, and guardianship. There is a range of different types of civil disputes that can be heard by ACAT including contract matters, damages, debt recovery, goods, trespass, nuisance, debt declaration, and common boundary disputes.

Once you have filed the appropriate application with ACAT, it must be served on the Respondent who will then have 21 days to file a response. All matters before ACAT will involve the parties participating in a case conference in an attempt to settle the matter prior to being given a hearing date.

If a party receives a decision from ACAT and believes that the Tribunal has made an error, they can lodge an appeal within 28 days in the Appeals Tribunal. If the appeal raises an issue of law or of public importance, either the appellant or the tribunal can elect to have the matter heard in the Supreme Court.

Commencing Civil Proceedings in the ACT Courts

To commence an action in the Magistrates Court or Supreme Court, a party must file an Originating Claim and a Statement of Claim. There are different Statements of Claim depending on the type of matter. The Claim and Statement of Claim must then be served on the Respondent who will then have 28 days to file a defence. If they fail to file a defence within this time, the Plaintiff can apply for default judgment.

If a defence has been filed, the parties must file a signed Certificate of Readiness for trial. The matter will then be set down for a pre-hearing conference. At the pre-hearing conference the registrar will attempt to settle the matter by reviewing the facts, in the hope to narrow down the issues in dispute. If there are still issues in dispute the matter will be set down for a hearing.


If you have received a decision from the ACT Magistrates Court or the Supreme Court, you may file an appeal against that decision in the ACT Court of Appeal. In most types of civil cases, if the appeal is unsuccessful, a costs order may be made against you so it is important to seek legal advice on your prospects of success prior to filing an appeal.

Civil Legislation in the ACT

There are many pieces of civil legislation in the ACT. The rules and procedures in regard to commencing civil actions are contained in the Court Procedures Act 2004, and the Court Procedures Rules 2006. However each court and tribunal also has their own legislation governing jurisdiction, and procedural requirements such as the Magistrates Court Act 1930, the Supreme Court Act 1933 and the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2008.

If your matter doesn’t relate to a liquidated damages claim or debt recovery, then you will also need to be aware of the individual legislation that governs your matter as to the type of damages you can be awarded. These can include such acts as the Residential Tenancies Act 1997, Leases (Commercial and Retail) Act 2001 and the Building Act 2004.

Each area of civil law has different limitation periods that govern the timeframe a party has to commence proceedings. These limitation periods are contained either within the specific act that applies, or in the Limitation Act 1985.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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