If you are involved in a legal dispute which cannot be settled (resolved) out of court or through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, you will probably end up in court proceedings. A typical civil case usually follows these steps:
- A statement of claim is filed with the court. In this document, the plaintiff (the one doing the suing) states his version of the situation and demands a remedy. The remedy may take the form of a restraint against some behaviour or, an amount of money -damages- is sought from the defendant (the one being sued) for loss or injury.
- A summons is issued by the court and is delivered with a copy of the complaint to the defendant, directing him to respond to the allegations.
- An answer to the summons is filed by the defendant, and a copy is sent to the plaintiff. The answer is a document in which the defendant presents his version of the case, admitting or denying the allegations made in the statement of claim. (In some States the answer is known as a defence.) If the answer is not filed by the date shown on the summons the plaintiff will usually win the case by default.
- A hearing date will be fixed by the court.
- Discovery procedures may be used to uncover evidence-usually documents-that may strengthen the case when it comes to court.
- The hearing begins. Opening statements are made in turn by the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant, summarising what each will establish during the hearing.
- Witnesses are called by the plaintiff and then by the defendant. The witnesses can be cross-examined by the opposing lawyers.
- Closing submissions are made by the lawyers on both sides, summerising the facts and issues of law in dispute.
- The final judgement is handed down by the court in the form of the judge's decision. In complex cases the judgement will not be given immediately but will be reserved for a period of time to enable the judge to consider fully all aspects of the dispute.