Legal costs usually include both lawyers' fees, and the expenses involved in running a case.
If you are representing yourself in a case, you do not have to pay for a lawyer, however, you may still have to pay some legal costs to the other party in the case. These costs are called 'party/party costs'. You may also have to pay certain legal costs to the court.
Costs in courts and tribunals
If your case is in a court, the usual rule is that the party who loses the case will be ordered to pay legal costs to the party who wins the case.
If your case is in a tribunal you are unlikely to be ordered to pay legal costs to the other party, even if you lose the case. In tribunal cases, the general rule is that each party will pay their own legal costs whatever the outcome of the case. This is also the general rule in family law cases. You may be ordered to pay costs in a tribunal or a family law case in exceptional circumstances. Examples of exceptional circumstances are:
- if you caused delays in hearing the case, because you failed to turn up or were not prepared, and did not have a good explanation
- if you made it difficult for the other party to prepare for the hearing because you failed to file documents when you were directed to.
In criminal law cases, in addition to legal costs, you may have to pay other costs in criminal law cases such as a court costs levy and victims support levy as well as criminal compensation.
A 'court costs levy' is a fee for having your case heard at court.
A victims support levy is a fee that goes into a government fund, which is used to pay financial assistance to victims of crime.
If you are convicted of an offence, the court can make an order that you pay the victim an amount of money to compensate them for loss or injuries. If the court makes an order that you have to pay criminal compensation, you should get
Orders to pay costs
In some kinds of court cases, the amount of legal costs that you can be ordered to pay are set down in court rules. For example, costs are fixed or limited in: probate cases; work injury cases; debt cases with a default judgment; and cases in the Small Claims Division of the Local Court.
In most court cases the court will order costs to be paid 'as agreed or assessed'. This means that the parties can try and come to an agreement about how much costs should be paid. If they can't reach agreement, they can get a costs assessment to decide what the amount should be.
Understanding common costs orders
Particular words are often used in courts when costs orders are made, including:
'No order as to costs'
This means that no party is awarded costs against the other. Each party pays their own legal costs.
'Costs in the cause'
This is another way of saying that the party who lost the case must pay legal costs to the winner of the case. Sometimes there will be a preliminary or interim hearing about some issue in the case. This is called an 'interlocutory hearing'. The court will commonly order that the costs of the interlocutory hearing will be costs in the cause. This means that the costs of the interlocutory hearing will be paid by the party that loses the case in the end.
This means that the decision about payment of costs for an interlocutory hearing will not be made until the end of the case. In most cases, the party who lost the case will be ordered to pay these costs.
'Costs of the day'
This means that a party is ordered to pay costs to the other party immediately or within a short period after losing an interlocutory hearing.
'Costs thrown away'
This means that a party who does not attend a hearing, or is not prepared for the hearing and asks for an adjournment, is ordered to pay costs to the other party because of their wasted time in preparing for and attending court that day.
If you want a costs assessment, you have to apply to the Supreme Court. The filing fee is either:
- 1% of the unpaid bill or
- 1% of the total costs in dispute.
You will also have to pay an hourly rate for the assessor's time. The costs assessor considers what is a reasonable amount for the time and skill involved in a lawyer preparing the case and representing their client in court.
For more information, go to the costs assessment section of the Supreme Court Costs Assessment website.