Settling civil matters – trial or mediation

Civil cases involve resolving disputes between individuals or businesses. These disputes can relate to compensation, inheritance, goods or services or rental agreements, for example.

Disputes are resolved in a civil procedure in the District Court and the process is initiated by a written application for a summons submitted by the plaintiff. Applications for summons can also be submitted electronically. The application for a summons must give the name of the court and the names and contact details of the parties, i.e. the plaintiff and the defendant, as well as their representatives and witnesses.

The application for a summons is the plaintiff’s account of what he or she seeks from the defendant and on what grounds. The application for a summons must be accompanied by the agreement or document on which the claims are based. The plaintiff also needs to specify what evidence he or she proposes to present in the case, i.e. written evidence and any witnesses.

If the matter involves a simple, undisputed debt or a matter such as eviction, the plaintiff does not need supply as detailed grounds for his or her claims as in cases involving matters that are known to be in dispute. It is also not necessary to provide details of evidence in the application for a summons in these circumstances.

The District Court will review the application and issue a summons to the defendant either by post or via a process server, in which case the defendant will be asked to respond to the plaintiff’s claims in writing.

If the defendant disputes the claims, the matter will proceed to an oral preparatory session to which both parties will be invited. The purpose of the preparatory session is to establish the issues on which the parties disagree and whether it might be possible to settle the matter out of court. If the parties are able to settle the matter at the preparatory session, the District Court will confirm the decision and the case will be closed.

If the parties are unable to settle, a main hearing will be held. In simple cases, the main hearing can be held immediately after the preparatory session. In complex cases involving witnesses, the main hearing will be held at a later date agreed separately. In most cases, the judge leading the preparatory session will also be the judge presiding over the main hearing and taking the decision on the matter. However, the main hearing can have a panel of three judges if necessary.

The main hearing will begin by the presiding judge outlining the outcome of the preparatory session and the claims of the parties. This will be followed by the plaintiff and the defendant explaining their positions in more detail. They can also address questions to each other. The next step is to review the written evidence and to hear witnesses.

The main hearing will conclude with the parties’ closing arguments, in which they will express their opinions with regard to how the matter should be resolved.

The decision on the matter will be given either immediately after the hearing or later in writing, in which case the parties can visit the registry to inspect the decision. The decision can also be sent to the parties upon request. A party dissatisfied with the decision can appeal it to the Court of Appeal.

If the defendant fails to submit a response to the District Court within the deadline specified in the summons, the District Court will decide the matter without holding a hearing on the basis of a judgment by default. The defendant will have 30 days to appeal the judgment by default. This procedure is known as an application for retrial. In these circumstances, the case will be reopened by the District Court and a full hearing will be held.

Published 11.1.2017