Once a defence has been filed, the court will post out to both parties the date, time and place of a directions hearing. A directions hearing is not the trial but is held to determine the position of each party and to encourage a resolution of the matter. You do not need to bring any witnesses to a directions hearing. Mediation may be suggested by the court.
Examples of orders which may be made at a directions hearing are:
- an order for discovery, that is, that one or both of the parties must provide copies of the documents they will use in court to the other party
- an adjournment for settlement terms – if the parties appear to agree in general but not on the finer points, they will be given more time to finalise their agreement
- a consent order and payment arrangement filed – if the defendant admits to the debt and agrees to a payment arrangement
- a date for trial may be set if no agreement is reached
It is important that you understand and comply with any orders made by the court at the directions hearing. If you are confused about what orders the court has made, you may get a copy of the court record of your hearing from the Magistrates Court Registry. If you do not understand the order, you may ask at the Registry.
Most debt matters do not make it to trial. If your matter does make it to trial you should be prepared in the following ways:
- ensure your witnesses are available on the day of the trial
- ensure you have all relevant documents
- arrive at court 15 minutes early and check the time and location of your hearing on the court notice board
You will be called into the courtroom when it is time to hear your matter. The witnesses will be asked to wait outside. You should stand whenever the Magistrate enters or leaves the court and address him or her as ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ or ‘Your Honour’.
The procedure for Minor Civil Claims is less formal than in most other courts. The Magistrate will conduct the hearing more like an inquiry, and will ask questions of the parties, ask to see documents, and ask any questions of any witnesses. Speak slowly and clearly as the Magistrate and their clerk will need to write down details. If you are confused about the procedure you may ask the Magistrate questions.
Lawyers are only allowed in certain circumstances (e.g. if the other party is a lawyer, or if all parties agree or the court is of the opinion that a party would be unfarily disadvantaged without a lawyer and gives permission) [See Magistrates Court Act 1991 (SA) s 38(4) and Magistrates Court (Civil) Rules 2013 (SA) r 13(4)].
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.