July 27, 2016

(C)Daniel Butcher 2007

Important new changes to the Minor Civil Claims Court in South Australia will see a significant reduction in the maximum amount of money that can be claimed. This is set to impact anyone who wishes to make or defend a small claim. More than ever, it’s important to know your legal rights and obligations.

What are minor civil claims?

The court system has long recognised that some disputes are not worth enough for the parties to justify getting lawyers involved. It operates a Minor Civil Claims Court for this reason.

The minor civil claims jurisdiction requires that people represent themselves, unless the opposing party agrees that a person can have a lawyer represent them.

The main reason is that it allows more people to pursue or defend legal claims. But in preparing or defending a claim, there is no barrier to people getting legal assistance so they can best work out what laws are involved and how to put together their strongest case.

Problems with the system

Prior to 2013, the limit for Minor Civil Claims was $6,000. In 2013, the limit was changed to $25,000. This meant that if you were making a minor civil claim, this was the maximum that you could claim.

But for cases that approach the $25,000 limit, the issues in dispute can become fairly complex, requiring a closer evaluation of documents, possibly the need to call witnesses to give evidence, and an in-depth knowledge of the laws involved.

Also, $25,000 is not a small amount of money for most people and labelling it as “minor” seemed at odds with community expectations.

There was also the concern that $25,000 claims would often involve large companies, setting up a David and Goliath-type scenario: the self-represented underdog against the company that’s been able to get its lawyers to prepare the case and its claims managers to conduct the trial. In other words, there was no level playing field.

Important new changes

For these reasons, the South Australian Government introduced changes to the minor civil claims threshold.

From 1 August 2016, any claim that is $12,000 or less will be a minor civil claim. In other words, to be a minor civil claim, anyone making a claim is restricted to the maximum amount of $12,000.

Any claim greater than $12,000 will be treated as a civil claim and the usual court rules will apply, meaning that a party can choose to be represented by a lawyer, or to represent themselves.

The Magistrates’ Court can hear cases involving claims of up to a maximum of $100,000.

There has been some criticism that this will either force people to hire lawyers to represent them, or to accept unfair settlements, resulting in more work for lawyers and less justice for the people who really need it.

The Government has defended its decision by saying that the court system won’t be as clogged up because the more complex minor civil cases were taking much longer to resolve.

Where does this leave you?

Any minor civil claim that was made before 1 August 2016 will continue to be dealt with as a minor civil claim. Any claim made on or after this date must be under $12,000.

If you are unsure about how this change will affect your case, please contact us as soon as possible for a free initial consultation. We can discuss your case and advise you about the best way to proceed.

It is worth remembering that even though you must represent yourself in a minor civil claim, you are entitled to legal advice to help you prepare your case, or to decide whether to settle. With our free initial consultation, it’s really worth taking advantage of some complimentary legal advice so you know where you stand.

Websters Lawyers are experienced litigation lawyers in Adelaide, Ridgehaven and Smithfield. Contact us now to find out how we can help you.