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Small Claims (NT)

In the Northern Territory, matters are heard in different courts depending on the nature and size of the claim. Minor legal matters are heard in either a tribunal or local court setting that is more informal and involves less legal costs. This article explains small claims matters in the NT.

Small Claims Matters in the Northern Territory

Small claims are exactly what the name suggests: claims that relate to smaller sums. For instance, a creditor can make a small claim for compensation over an unpaid debt, or a consumer who received faulty goods or poor service can make a claim for damages or compensation. A small claim must be made within three years of the date the debtor incurred the debt. However, if the debtor confirms the debt in writing during that period, the countdown starts again from the date of the document.

Someone can lodge a claim of any amount up to $25,000 in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal and a claim for a larger amount up to $250,000 in the Local Court. Claims of larger amounts are heard by the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory.

Debt recovery

The legal procedure that a creditor uses to reclaim money is known as debt recovery. A creditor should send a final reminder letter to the debtor before initiating legal action. The Letter of Demand should state the problem and how it can be rectified, the amount outstanding, the origin of the debt, and the new due date. The Letter of Demand should also be clear that if the debt is not paid, the next step is a court action.

The process for small claims in the NT

The claimant will submit a claim to the court or tribunal, and also serve the required documents on the defendant. The claimant has 28 days from the date of service to complete and submit a declaration of service form to the court. In the Northern Territory, when the defendant is a company, service can be achieved through sending the documents registered post. Otherwise, if the debtor is an individual or person trading as a business, these documents must be served in person either by the claimant themselves or by someone such as a bailiff. If it is not possible to serve the documents in person, the claimant must notify the court.

Defending small claims

The defendant can offer to pay the claim, pay part of the claim, or legally defend the claim. When the debtor chooses to defend the claim, the parties attend a pre-hearing conference where the matter will hopefully settle. A court officer runs this conference, giving the parties a chance to agree before the claim proceeds to a formal hearing. If the matter does not settle at the pre-hearing conference, the matter can still be settled at any time before the matter goes to court. The parties must inform the court that the matter has been resolved and withdraw the claim. If, on the other hand, the defendant does not respond to the claim within 28 days, the claimant can ask the court to make a default judgment in their favour.

Hearings of small claims in the NT

Legally, both parties must attend a small claims hearing unless they are told otherwise. Neither party to a small claims dispute needs to have a lawyer, but it is highly advisable for each party to have a lawyer representing their interests at the hearing. The parties can also have a support person attend the hearing, but the support person cannot participate in the proceeding.

The plaintiff starts by telling the court why they believe the defendant owes them money. They must prove their case by presenting evidence and witnesses. The defendant has a right to reply and tell the court why they do not owe this money or stipulate that work was satisfactorily performed. It is vital that both the plaintiff and defendant take to court all the original supporting documents, such as contracts, receipts, bills, photographs, sale receipts and quotes. The court is still bound by rules of evidence, but as parties often have limited knowledge of evidential issues, the magistrate or registrar may not be as strict in their application of the rules of hearsay and relevance.

Either party can ask witnesses to attend court to support their case. Witnesses can also prepare a statutory declaration outlining their evidence that is presented to the opposing party and the court. Witnesses may be cross-examined by the other side to undermine their evidence. After hearing from both sides, the magistrate or registrar passes a judgment based on the presented evidence.

Costs in a Small Claim in the NT

A claimant must pay fees when making an initiating application with the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal and the local court. As a general rule, the judge routinely awards costs to the successful party in a small claims matter. This means that the losing party can be ordered to pay some of the other party’s legal costs and disbursements.

Please contact or call 1300 636 846 if you require representation on a small claims matter in the Northern Territory.  Our civil law team can provide legal advice on any matter in the Northern Territory.

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Nicola Bowes

Dr Nicola Bowes holds a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from the University of Tasmania, a Bachelor of Laws with first-class honours from the Queensland University of Technology, and a PhD from The University of Queensland. After a decade of working in higher education, Nicola joined Go To Court Lawyers in 2020.
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