What is the District Court and what does it do?
The District Court deals with most civil and criminal court cases. District Court judges often hear cases on minor criminal convictions, like stolen cars or possession of drugs, but they can also deal with more serious offences like rape and aggravated robbery. Civil claims for up to $350,000 (increased from $200,000 on 1 March 2017) are dealt with in the District Court, but any claim smaller than $15,000 is normally heard by the Disputes Tribunal (in some cases the Tribunal can hear claims up to $20,000). There are around 60 District Courts across the country.
More information is on the District Courts website.
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Where is the nearest District Court?
You can find your nearest court on the Ministry of Justice website.
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What’s involved in applying to the District Court to resolve a dispute?
When you apply to the District Court to resolve a dispute, what you’re doing is making a ‘civil claim’.
A civil claim can be used to resolve a dispute or to recover money that you believe is owed to you. You can also make a civil claim to enforce a Disputes Tribunal order.
You can make a civil claim on your own, or with the help of a lawyer.
If you want a lawyer to help you but can’t afford one, find out whether you are eligible for legal aid. You can also get help with filling out the forms from a Community Law Centre or Citizens Advice Bureau.
To start off the claims process:
- Fill out the required documents and file them with the District Court. A guide to filing court documents is on the Ministry of Justice website. You’ll need to pay a court filing fee.
- Give a copy of the documents to the other party (it should be sent or delivered to their address). This is called “serving” the documents.
- Allow the other party 25 days to respond to your notice of claim (with a statement of defence).
If the other party defends the claim by filing a statement of defence, the court will arrange a conference where the judge speaks to both parties and decides what the next step will be. Otherwise the case goes through the judgement by default process (i.e. a decision made in favour of one party because the other party has not responded to a summons or failed to appear in court).
At any point during the civil claim process, you and the other party may resolve the dispute between you and end the claim process.
If there is a court hearing and the judge’s decision is in your favour, then other party can be ordered to pay towards your court costs.
You’ll find more information about starting proceedings in the District Court, as well as the forms you’ll need, on the Ministry of Justice website. If you’re considering representing yourself in court, have a look at the Ministry of Justice information on going to court without a lawyer.