Everyone has this image of what court looks like and what going to court would be like. They gather this information through a range of sources including the TV, media, word of mouth and the news. Here are 10 things you may not have known about litigation:
1. Court isn’t like it is on TV
Let’s just clarify this now, the picture painted by popular court room drama’s couldn’t be farther from the truth. Lawyers don’t walk around the room when addressing the court and there is a lot less drama inside the court room. Whilst we are at it, in Western Australia they don’t wear those old fashioned wigs anymore.
2. Very few cases go to trial
Just to give you some perspective, in 2014 the Supreme Court of Western Australia recorded 2,707 new civil cases which had been initiated that year, had 2,676 cases finalised and, at 31 December 2014, had 2,367 cases still pending. Out of all those matters there were only 64 civil trials conducted in the Supreme Court for that entire year.
3. It takes a long time for a matter to be resolved
As at August 2014 the average amount of time a matter took to settle in the District Court of Western Australia was 25 weeks. If a matter was to proceed to trial however then the average time a matter took to be resolved was around 60 weeks. This does not take into account the time spent negotiating prior to proceedings being commenced or the time after a trial where there may be issues about recovery of the judgement sum or other issues still unresolved.
4. Trials are long and boring
Although some case can be exciting, if you’re stuck in a courtroom for several days, discussing the meaning behind one clause in a contract or disputing if someone owes another person a sum of money, it doesn’t make for great entertainment. The average length of a civil trial heard in the District Court of Western Australia in 2011 was just under 4 days with those days being long and, from a client’s perspective, could have been better spent elsewhere.
5. Court is expensive
There is no two ways about it. If you’re determined to take a matter to trial then it is going to cost you a lot. Not only do you need to pay for your lawyer’s costs for each day that you attend court but you will also need to pay for all the preparation that goes on before stepping into court and then there are the costs of a Barrister and specialists you may use in your matter. There is also no guarantee that you will even get your costs paid if you are successful, in fact you may need to pay the other party’s costs if the matter doesn’t go in your favour or you reject reasonable offers of settlement.
6. Legal costs can amount to more than what the claim is actually worth
This is particularly common amongst smaller claims. The Magistrates Court have aimed to help this by offering a streamlined service for minor cases under $10,000.00 which reduces the amount of time and formalities required to finalise a matter.
7. Most of the time you spend in court isn’t actually in a courtroom
The courts are aware of how long matters take, how expensive they are and the more cases that go to trial means more delays for everyone else. It is for this reason that the courts aim to sit the parties down and facilitate a discussion to resolve the issue early to save everyone time and money. Your first encounter with a court is likely to be in one of these “pre-trial conferences” and it won’t be your last.
8. When you make it into a courtroom there is a chance that you won’t be in front of a judge
Nowadays the courts utilise Magistrates, Masters and Registrars to help manage the caseloads of the court and reserve Judges for the more complex matters.
9. Each court has its own jurisdiction
For civil matters each court has its own jurisdiction to hear matters. This helps the courts allocate resources depending on the complexity of the case. The Magistrates Court determines disputes valued between $0 and $75,000, the District Court determines matters valued between $75,000 and $750,000 and the Supreme Court has an unlimited jurisdiction. The courts have other specialty jurisdiction but you should always obtain advice before commencing proceedings to ensure that you are making the correct application in the correct court.
10. You don’t have an automatic right to appeal
People often believe that if a decision doesn’t go their way that they can appeal the decision and have the matter reheard. This is incorrect and you should always seek advice on whether an avenue for appeal is open to you.
Do you want to know more, or do you know someone who might? Do you need representation in court proceedings? Please feel free to give Lynn & Brown Lawyers a call on 9375 3411 for some advice, or share this article with someone who may need it.
About the author:
Aaron Plenderleith is a lawyer at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Aaron was recently admitted to practice law in Western Australia and specialises in legal writing, legal research, criminal law and employment law.