In South Australia, most civil law cases are dealt with either in court or the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (SACAT). For court matters, the appropriate court is determined by the amount claimed. The Magistrates Court is divided into the Minor Claims Division which deals with claims up to $25,000.00 and the General Claims Division which deals with claims from $25,000.00 to $100,000.00. Amounts over this are dealt with in the District or Supreme Courts. The SACAT deals with certain civil law disputes or applications and with certain administrative law disputes.
This division of the Magistrates Court deals with claims up to $25,000.00. The laws that govern it are the Magistrates Court Act 1991 and Magistrates Court (Civil) Rules 2013. The court process is simplified so you can represent yourself. You can’t use a lawyer unless the Court gives permission. Court action starts when you file a Form 3. After service, the Defendant has 21 days to file a defence. Defended matters are set down for a directions hearing where the Registrar will help the parties identify the issues and attempt to resolve the matter. If it can’t be resolved, it is set down for either mediation or trial. If the debt isn’t disputed, or an agreement is reached you can sign an Enforceable Payment Agreement (EPA). Costs are not usually awarded, unless everyone is represented by a lawyer or the court considers it is justified. If either party is not satisfied with the Courts judgment they can appeal the decision in the District Court.
This division is for matters between $25,000.00 and $100,000.00 and the laws that govern it are the Magistrates Court Act 1991 and Magistrates Court (Civil) Rules 2013. A Letter of Demand setting out the details of your claim and allowing 21 days to pay must be sent before filing a claim. The procedure and forms are basically the same as for the Minor Civil Claims Division, but the formalities are not relaxed and parties can be legally represented. The court holds a conciliation conference and a directions hearing to try to resolve the claim and may refer the matter for mediation. There may be significant cost implications for parties who don’t accept realistic offers to settle. If the matter cannot be settled it is listed for trial. If either party doesn’t accept the Court’s decision, they can appeal to the District Court.
The laws that govern matters in the higher courts are the District Court Act 1991, the District Court Civil Rules 2006, the Supreme Court Act 1935 and Supreme Court Civil Rules 2006. You must send the defendant a detailed offer to settle the claim 21 days before filing your claim. A summons is served on the defendant. If the claim is defended, the defendant files an appearance and defence to the claim. The parties attend a status hearing and prepare a Litigation Plan which sets out how the matter will proceed. A conference may be held to try to settle the claim. The court will periodically hold directions hearings and listing conferences to manage the progress of the matter to trial. It is important to seek legal advice before starting an action in the Supreme Court as there can be costs penalties for actions commenced incorrectly. If either party doesn’t agree with the Court’s decision, they can appeal to the full bench of the Supreme Court.
SACAT commenced operation on 30 March 2015. It handles appeals previously made to the District Court on Guardianship Board and Residential Tenancies Tribunal matters and to the Supreme Court on Land Valuation disputes. They also do the work formerly done by the Guardianship Board, the Residential Tenancies Tribunal and by the Housing Appeal Panel.
It will soon take on disputes currently determined by the Public Sector Grievance Review Commission, appeals to the District Court under the Freedom of Information Act, and matters in the Magistrates Court about First Home Owner Grants. From late 2015, SACAT will also deal with matters under the following laws:
- Public Sector Act 2009
- First Home and Housing Construction Grants Act 2000
- Freedom of Information Act 1991
Other areas of law are currently being considered by Parliament.
SACAT resolves issues either through conciliation or mediation by agreement or through a decision of the Tribunal at hearing, and also reviews certain government decisions. All applicants apply online, but you can make your application over the phone if you need some help. At conciliation conference the parties talk about their application or dispute and try to resolve the matter by agreement. If they are unable to reach an agreement, or if the Tribunal decides not to hold a conference, then the case or dispute is referred to a full hearing. The hearing is resolved by the decision of the tribunal member. Parties receive a written decision (a Tribunal Order) for outcomes of both hearings and conciliations. This will tell each party what they have to do. If you are able to resolve the case by agreement (at conference), that agreement will be recorded in a consent order. In either case the order is binding on the parties and can be enforced.