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A plaintiff is the person who initiates litigation against another in a civil(non-criminal) action. In some courts and tribunals the plaintiff is called the Applicant. The person against whom litigation is commenced is called the defendant or in some cases the respondent.

Commencement refers to the method required to start the litigation process.The document used to do this is called the originating process. For example, to start a personal injury action in the District Court the document required is a statement of claim. Another common type of originating process is a summons. To commence an action , these documents are filed in the registry of the relevant court together with the prescribed filing fee.

Service describes the way in which the court documents are brought to the attention of other parties involved. Sometimes service on another party is required to be personal: this means that the document has to be delivered to the person involved and left in their presence. For many court documents however it will be sufficient under the rules of the court for service to occur by mail.

Default procedure. Usually when an originating process is served the other party is required to take some step within a certain time. Most courts have a procedure called judgement by default if the defendant does not take these prescribed steps - judgement will be entered in favour of the plaintiff.

Defence: if the claim is disputed, the defendant must file a defence or answer to the claim within a certain time after the originating process is served on them. Pre-trial procedures. There are various steps required to eventually bring the matter before the court. Some courts have standard timetable of steps which must be complied with. For example in some courts the court will issue a date for a directions hearing as soon as the originating process is filed. At this hearing, sometimes called a callover, the court will make orders or directions for things which need to be done by the parties to prepare for the hearing. At this time the court might also consider whether the matter is appropriate for referral to some other method of dispute resolution,such as arbitration.

Before the trial there are also a number of interlocutory applications which can be made. These are applications to the court for orders other than for final resolution. There is a wide range of interlocutory applications which can be made. Their purpose, broadly, is to give the court power to make orders which will preserve the status quo between parties, to obtain evidence or to narrow down the issues before trial.

Hearing: If the matter has not been resolved it will proceed to hearing before a judge. It is at the hearing that each side will have the opportunity to present its case through the testimony of witnesses and the other party will have the opportunity to cross examine those witnesses. Courts are generally required to apply strict rules to the evidence which can be used and parties can object to certain types of evidence being given by witnesses such as opinion evidence where a witness is not qualified to give that opinion. Many tribunals are not bound by the same rules of evidence as are applied in courts.

At the end of the hearing the judge will give a verdict and make other orders which may include orders as to the payment of costs.

Enforcement refers to the procedures available to the court for ensuring that the court's orders are carried out. For example if a person has been ordered to pay money it may be possible to obtain a court order that this money be taken out of their salary. 


A court's jurisdiction refers to its authority to decide the different matters which come before it. Different courts have different jurisdictions.

In Australia, the Constitution gives the Commonwealth Parliament powers to make laws only in certain areas. Matters which involve Commonwealth or Federal laws are dealt with by a system of federal courts operating in all states.Queensland also has its own system of courts and tribunals. The following courts are the main courts exercising jurisdiction in Queensland.


Magistrates Courts:

Magistrates are the judicial officers in Magistrates courts and are addressed as "Your Worship" whilst in court. They can hear civil cases involving matters such as debts and contract disputes, personal injury claims and motor vehicle damage claims where the amount of money involved does not exceed$50,000. Magistrates also hear certain criminal matters although in some cases this is merely to determine whether the person charged should be sent to a higher court (a committal hearing) for a hearing called a trial; 

District Courts:

Judges decide cases in the District Court and are addressed as "Your Honour". They can hear civil claims for amounts up to $250,000. More serious criminal matters (crimes and misdemeanors) are also heard by District Courts before a judge and jury. Appeals from the Magistrates Court are also heard in the District Court; 

Supreme Court:

The Supreme Court is the highest state court. It hears civil and criminal matters and certain appeals from the District Court. The Court of Appeal is part of the Supreme Court and hears various appeals from the Supreme and District Courts. Judges in the Supreme and Court of Appeal are addressed as "Your Honour". Appeals from the Supreme Court may be made to the High Court of Australia but only from the decisions of a number of Supreme Court Judges sitting together and only with the special leave, or permission, of the High Court; 

Specialist Courts:

There are also a number of specialist courts which operate at state level including the Land Court, which deals with planning and environment disputes and some local government issues, the Industrial Magistrates Court and the Industrial Court both of which deal with industrial matters such as employment disputes and disputes between unions and employers; 

Federal Courts:

The Federal Court of Australia: this court hears matters relating to federal laws such as breach of the federal Trade Practices Act;

The Family Court of Australia: this court deals with matters which are covered by the Family Law Act;

The High Court of Australia: This is the highest Court in Australia. It hears appeals from state Supreme Courts and from Federal Courts and may hear other matters which involve, for example important Constitutional issues. 


Within Australia there are a number of tribunals and other bodies with jurisdiction to hear certain types of cases outside the Court system. Federal tribunals include the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission. State tribunals include the Building Tribunal,Small Claims Tribunal and Medical Assessment Tribunal. 


This Information Outline is provided courtesy of Hall Payne Lawyers who are experienced in this area of law. They are located at Level 9, 344 Queen Street,Brisbane, QLD 4000 or call them on (07) 3221-2044 if you would like more information on this legal topic, or you wish to obtain formal advice regarding your situation.

Hall Payne Lawyers are an established Queensland firm practicing in the areas of employment law (unfair dismissal etc), accident compensation (WorkCover,motor vehicle accident, personal injuries), anti-discrimination &harassment, consumer law, family law, wills & estates, criminal law and conveyancing. Hall Payne Lawyers are a founding member of the Australia-wide PeopleLaw group.

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