In November 2009, Parliament implemented significant changes to the claim process in New Zealand’s District Courts. The aim of the changes is to simplify the claim process, reduce the cost of litigation, and bring relevant information to light quickly to promote settlement discussions.
Notice of Claim
In most cases, a claim in the District Courts is now started by the plaintiff filing and serving on the defendant a document called a notice of claim. The Notice of Claim merges the old Statement of Claim and Notice of Proceeding. It sets out the legal basis for the claim, the material facts that support the claim and the contact details for the parties to the claim.
Response by Defendant
Upon receiving the plaintiff’s Notice of Claim, the defendant has 30 working days to serve on the plaintiff a Response by Defendant to the plaintiff’s claim. The Response by defendant replaces the old Statement of Defence. It sets out any points of disagreement the defendant has with the plaintiff’s claim, and any defences the defendant has against the plaintiff. At the same time, the defendant is able to file a counterclaim against the plaintiff if he or she wishes to do so.
If the defendant fails to serve a Response by Defendant within 30 working days, the plaintiff can proceed to obtain judgment against the defendant.
Plaintiff’s Information Capsule
If the defendant does serve a Response by Defendant on the plaintiff within the 30 working days, the plaintiff is then required to serve an information capsule on the defendant within a further 30 working days. The plaintiff’s Information Capsule must set out the key witnesses and documents the plaintiff relies on for its claim, as well as any settlement discussions the parties have had (these are kept confidential if the matter proceeds to a full hearing).
If the plaintiff fails to serve an Information Capsule on the defendant within the further 30 working days, the plaintiff’s claim ends.
Defendant’s Information Capsule
If the plaintiff serves an Information Capsule on the defendant within the further 30 working days, the defendant must respond by serving an equivalent Information Capsule on the plaintiff within a further 30 working days. Again, if the defendant fails to serve its Information Capsule on the plaintiff within the further 30 working days, the plaintiff can proceed to obtain judgment against the defendant.
Notice of Pursuit of Claim
If the defendant does serve an Information Capsule on the plaintiff within the further 30 working days, the plaintiff can either:
- Attempt to negotiate a settlement with the defendant. One of the aims of the new rules is to get the parties talking to one another more quickly without Court involvement in a bid to increase the number of claims that settle out of Court.
- Withdraw the plaintiff’s claim (in which case the defendant might claim legal costs from the plaintiff); or
- Proceed with its claim by filing a Notice of Pursuit of Claim
The Notice of Pursuit of Claim must be filed and served within 90 working days after the plaintiff receives service of the defendant’s Information Capsule, otherwise the plaintiff’s claim ends. When the plaintiff files its Notice of Pursuit of Claim in the Court, it also files in the Court copies of the Response by Defendant and the two Information Capsules. At that point, the plaintiff can either apply to have a Short Trial of the claim or have the matter referred to a settlement conference (like a mediation conference) before a District Court Judge. If the matters goes to a settlement conference, but does not settle
The new processes impose strict timelimits on both parties. Therefore, it is important to get legal advice early to avoid having the claim go against you.
Parry Field Lawyers offer legal advice in resolving disputes both through methods of Alternative Dispute Resolution and through litigation in the Courts. Should you need any assistance resolving disputes, please contact Paul Cowey (348-8480) at Parry Field Lawyers.