The majority of civil matters in the Northern Territory are heard in the Magistrates Court, or Supreme Court. Unlike the other states there are no tribunals that deal with common civil complaints. The only Tribunals in the Northern Territory are the Lands, Planning and Mining Tribunal, Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and the Mental Health Review Tribunal. These two tribunals are very specific in the issues they deal with, and their jurisdiction is very clearly defined in specific pieces of Legislation. To assist the Courts there is a Community Justice Centre which is run by the Department of Attorney-General and Justice to provide people with the opportunity to resolve minor civil issues without the need for going to Court. If mediation fails at the CJC the next step would be to commence action in the Courts.
The Northern Territory Magistrates Court, or Local Court as it is sometimes referred, can determine civil complaints involving debt recovery, damages, or other actions to the value of $100,000. The Court is governed by the Local Court Act. There is also a small claims division which can hear matters to the value of $10,000. The benefit of the small claims division is that it is not bound by the rules of evidence, and the Magistrate, or Registrar, can run the matter as they see fit. It is important to be aware that costs are not normally awarded in the small claims division. The small claims division is governed by the Small Claims Act which sets out the procedures and rules that apply. Proceedings are commenced by filing a Statement of Claim and serving it on the Defendant. The Defendant will then have 28 days to file a response. Appeals from the Magistrates Court depend on whether the matter was determined by a Registrar, or Magistrate. If a Registrar made the Order that is the question of an Appeal, then the Appeal is lodged in the Magistrates Court to be heard by a Magistrate. If the matter was determined by a Magistrate then the Appeal is to be lodged in the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court of the Northern Territory sits mainly in Darwin and Alice Springs, though on occasions does sit in other centres throughout the Territory. The Supreme Court deals with all civil matters with a value greater than $100,000, all probate and estate issues, and Magistrate Appeals. The Court is governed by the Supreme Court Act which outlines its jurisdiction, and procedures. Proceedings are commenced in the Supreme Court by way of Writ, or Originating Motion. If you have been served with a Writ, or Originating Motion, you will have 7 days to file a Notice of Appearance if you reside with 200 kilometres of Darwin, or Alice Springs and it was filed in corresponding registry. If you live in another part of the Northern Territory you will have 14 days, or 21 days if you reside outside of the Northern Territory. Failing to do so may result in default judgment being awarded against you.
The Criminal Justice Centre (CJC) was established to provide mediation services to those that need assistance in resolving disputes without the need to go through the Courts. The most common use of the CJC is in resolving disputes about neighbourhood nuisance such as noise, trees, fences, pets, and drainage. It is also used by clubs, committees or incorporated Associations to resolve issues between members. The other party will not always agree to participate in mediation, but it is a useful tool in resolving disputes, and should always be the first course of action. Sometimes it is helpful for the parties to have an independent third party, who is a trained mediator, discuss the issues and advise of ways they may be resolved. Other civil issues which are suitable for mediation in the CJC include small claims matters such as an unpaid loan to a friend, or an unpaid invoice from work performed; disputes over ownership of property; and disputes between family members. If you believe that mediation is suitable for your civil matter you can contact the CJC, and discuss suitability. The CJC will contact the other party on your behalf, and request that they attend mediation at a convenient time.