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The new District Court Rules come into force on 1 July 2014. In response to practitioner demand, the new rules have returned to a system of formal pleading, while retaining trial processes that are quite different from those in the High Court. It is also expected that the Judicature Modernisation Bill will substantially increase the monetary jurisdiction of the District Court, making it the forum for commencement of the majority of civil claims.
You will gain the skills necessary to understand District Court procedures and operate effectively in the new environment.
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On 1 July, 2014 a new set of District Court Rules came into effect replacing the District Court Rules 2009. Those earlier rules represented a significant departure from the way in which the procedure of the Court had been traditionally regulated by rules and were also radically different in their relegation of the role of pleadings to rules under which the other main court of first instance, the High Court, operates.
Overall the 2009 Rules were, in terms of the structural changes introduced to the Court's processes, successful, in particular the emphasis on judicial settlement conferences, tailored discovery and the different modes of trial. However significant concerns as to the absence of pleadings and the informal way of commencing or defending a claim, and in particular the absence of summary judgment from the commencement of claims or defences were widely expressed among the profession. Consequently a review of the rules was initiated in 2012 by the Rules Committee which review has led to the promulgation of the new rules. All of the significant features of the 2009 rules which were considered to be an improvement on these then existing rules have been retained. The various modes of trial will continue to be a feature of the District Court Rules, as will tailored discovery and the emphasis on judicial settlement conferences as a way of resolving claims prior to determination by a Court.
The new features reflect the need to reintroduce pleadings as a way of commencing and defending claims. The role of pleadings is central to an efficient system of civil procedure enabling as they do the Court and the parties to understand clearly the nature of the claim or defence and the relief sought. While the earlier rules may have had as their objective an enhancement of access to justice by creating a relatively informal way of commencing a claim or defence, the absence of structured documents in the form of statements of claim and statements of defence meant that succinct and clear analyses of the position of the parties were often not available until the proceedings were well advanced. The need for clarity in the nature of the issues and relief sought was widely recognised by the profession during the consultative process and has led to the reintroduction of formal pleadings for the commencement of claims and defences.
The summary judgment procedure has also been reintroduced as a way of commencing a claim and is available to plaintiffs up to 10 working days after the statement of defence has been served and filed. Defendants are also able to avail themselves of summary judgment in a sufficiently clear case.
The consultation process also revealed a desire for more judicial control of proceedings and so the decision as to the allocation of the appropriate mode of trial will be made by a Judge at a case management conference rather than by the Registrar as under the 2009 rules and there is a requirement for claims to be actively case managed. Where a short trial is not ordered and where summary judgment has not been the mode of commencing a trial, there will be a presumption that disputes are referred to a judicial settlement conference before further steps are taken.
The rules also reflect a desire to harmonise, as far as possible, the District Court Rules with the High Court Rules. The overall approach has been that unless there is a reason particular to the District Court for doing so, the rules in the two Courts will be the same so that the layout of the new rules follows that of the High Court and in most cases rules are identical. Time limits for filing and serving documents have been harmonised with the High Court Rules wherever possible.
Overall the objective of the 2009 Rules in ensuring the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of any proceeding or interlocutory application has, by these changes, been retained as have the significant structural changes to the procedure of the Courts, in particular the various modes of trial which were widely regarded as having been successful. The new rules reflect the need to retain what has been found to be workable and an improvement on the rules of procedure as they existed prior to 2009 and the need to change other rules and procedures where necessary.Judge Brooke Gibson
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Authors: Andrew Beck, Judge Brooke Gibson, Judge Paul Kellar, David Neutze
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