Although you have been told to go to court at a certain time, for example 9:30am, this does not mean your case will be heard at that time. There are often many cases scheduled on the same day and you have to wait until your name is called. You can take a seat in the courtroom or if the courtroom is full you can wait outside. Make sure you do not leave the court building and are close enough to the courtroom to hear the court officer call your name. If you leave, or are not there when you are called, your case can be dealt with in your absence.
The magistrate or assessor may adjourn (close) the courtroom for morning tea, usually around 11:30am, or for lunch, usually from 1:00pm to 2:00pm. You will have to leave the court room during these breaks. You can check with the court officer or the registry what time the courtroom will reopen.
It is possible that you could be at the court for a few hours, and sometimes for most of the day, so you should make arrangements with your work or childcare if necessary.
Make sure you arrive in plenty of time. If you are not in or near the courtroom when your case is called the hearing could go ahead without you. If you are running late, you should call the court registry to let them know.
When you get to the court, check the lists on the wall for the name of your case, the number in the list and which courtroom the hearing will be in. Your case may be the only case listed for hearing, or there may be others as well. The list should also have the name of the magistrate or assessor who will be hearing your case.
You should aim to get to the court at least 30 minutes before your case is listed for hearing. This should allow you enough time to find the court list and your courtroom.
Don't forget to turn off your mobile phone before going into the courtroom.
If yours is the only case listed in the courtroom at that time, you can sit at the bar table at the front of the courtroom. Get out your papers and arrange them so you can find things when you need them during the hearing.
If there are other cases listed at the same time, sit at the back of the court and wait for your case to be called.
The hearing is your chance to tell your story to the magistrate or assessor and to persuade them that your version of events is true. Remember that the magistrate or assessor is interested in the evidence that supports your case and this is what you should focus on. The magistrate or assessor is not interested in your opinions or feelings about the case or the other party.
For more information, see
To win the case you need to prove that:
This standard of proof is called 'the balance of probabilities'.
Hearings in the Small Claims Division are held before a magistrate (called 'Your Honour') or an assessor (called ''Sir', 'Madam' or 'Assessor'). You should stand when a magistrate or assessor comes into or leaves the courtroom. For more information, see
Who's who in court.
You should always be polite to the magistrate or assessor, other court staff and the other party. Refer to the other party or their lawyer as Mr/Ms and their surname.For more information, see
What to do, say and wear in court .
You can watch a video about what to do and say in the courtroom below.
You can also read a
transcript of this video (43 kb).
This video is available with the audio description.
Sometimes the plaintiff or defendant will ask the court to postpone the hearing to another date. This is an adjournment. The magistrate or assessor may not agree to this unless there is a good reason. There may be an adjournment if one or both of the parties served their witness statements late.
If the magistrate or assessor does agree to an adjournment, they may make a costs order against the party at fault. For example, costs may be ordered against the party who served witness statements and evidence late.
For more information, see
The first thing the magistrate or assessor will do is ask if there is any chance of the case being settled. If either or both of the parties answer yes, the magistrate or assessor will give you time to go outside the courtroom and discuss settling the case.
For more information, see
Settling the case.
The next thing that the magistrate or assessor will do is go through the witness statements and other evidence that have been sent to the court. In some cases they may have done this before the case started, They will check that:
If any of the witness statements or other evidence were served late or on the day of the hearing, there will be discussion about whether this evidence can be considered during the hearing. The magistrate or assessor may decide that the witness statements and/or other evidence cannot be used. If this happens with your evidence, you can request an adjournment.
Hearings in the Small Claims Division are relatively informal. The magistrate or assessor will ask the plaintiff to speak first, as the person who has made the claim and started the case. When the plaintiff has finished speaking, the magistrate or assessor will ask the defendant to speak.
When asked to present your case, you should briefly:
You can speak from prepared notes. This can be helpful if you are nervous. For more information, see
Preparing for the hearing - Step by step guide.
The magistrate or assessor may ask you some questions or ask you to explain some things in more detail. The magistrate or assessor may also ask you to move on to another point if they feel you have said enough about a certain issue or that you are speaking about something that is not relevant to the case.
If you want to make submissions on the law applying to your case, based on your legal research, you should do this after you have talked about your evidence.
It is important that you don't interrupt the other party when it is their turn to speak. Instead, you can make some notes of anything you want to comment on or clarify. At the end of the hearing, you will be asked whether there is anything else you want to say.
You should not speak rudely or abusively about the other party or give your opinion about their morals or motives. Stick to the facts and the evidence and be calm and polite.
In the Small Claims Division witnesses usually give evidence in a written statement.
If you were given leave (permission) at the Pre Trial Review to have a witness give evidence in person (this is very rare), you should ask your witness to wait outside the courtroom. When you are presenting your case, you should tell the magistrate or assessor that your witness is present and ask that the witness be brought into the courtroom.
A court officer will bring your witness into the courtroom, take them to the witness box and administer the oath or affirmation. You should ask the witness to tell the court their name, address and occupation. You will then be able to ask them the questions you have prepared about their witness statement.
After you have finished asking the witness questions, the other party will have a chance to question the witness. This is cross-examination. After the cross examination, you will be asked if you want to ask the witness any further questions. When your witness has finished giving evidence they have to leave the courtroom.
The plaintiff's witnesses will go first then the defendant's witnesses.
The magistrate or assessor will often give their decision straight after the hearing, or after a short break. The magistrate or assessor will give reasons for their decision. It is likely that the magistrate or assessor will make a costs order against the party who lost the case.
For more information, see
Sometimes the decision of the magistrate or assessor is 'reserved'. This means that a decision is not given on the day of the hearing and the court will contact you when the decision has been made.
If you lose the case, do not argue with the magistrate or assessor. If you want to appeal the judgment, you should get
legal advice as soon as possible. An appeal must be filed within 28 days of the date of the judgment or court's decision. For more information, see
After the case.
For further information, see
Presenting your case at the hearing - Frequently Asked Questions.