District Court New South Wales

Going to court for a civil case

Get legal advice and information

Before commencing any court proceedings you should seek legal advice about your case. There are time limits and can be significant costs involved in district court cases and you should consider whether you need legal representation at court.

Need help?

Call LawAccess NSW 1300 888 529

LawAccess NSW is a free government telephone service that provides legal information, referrals and in some cases, advice for people who have a legal problem in New South Wales.

Consider alternatives

You should consider whether there are alternative methods for reaching an agreement rather than commencing court proceedings. Litigation can be expensive and time consuming. It may be in your interests to try to resolve your dispute without going to court. Alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as arbitration, can be successful even in large commercial disputes.

Find out more about alternative dispute resolution.

Consider the time limits for starting court cases

Different time limits will apply depending on the type of claim being lodged. You should get legal advice about the time limits that may apply in your case. Staff at the district court cannot give you legal advice.

Starting a claim

Civil cases are commenced by the filing of a Statement of Claim or a Summons - depending on the type of case. The Statement of Claim or Summons explains which court the claim is being commenced in, the parties to the case and details about the claim. There are fees for lodging a Statement of Claim or a Summons.

You should get legal advice or assistance with the contents of the statement of claim or summons. If you are commencing a case without a lawyer, you should be aware of the legislation and practice directions relevant to your case. A good starting point is:

You should get legal advice if you are unsure how to commence your claim and what information is required in the form.

Responding to a Statement of Claim

If you have received a Statement of Claim, you have 28 days to respond to the claim. You should consider getting legal advice about the claim being made.

If you do not respond to the statement of claim in the time allowed, a judgment could be recorded against you. If you want to defend the claim you will need to lodge a defence (a Notice of Grounds of Defence) with the court where the case commenced. You should get legal advice about what to address in your defence and whether to lodge a cross-claim.

The court process before hearing

In most cases, there will be a number of case management appearances required before the case is listed for a hearing. These include pre-trial conferences and a status conference. These stages exist to encourage settlement of the claim and to ensure the case preparation is on track.

Find out more about settling a case.

When a hearing date is allocated the case may also be referred to mediation, a form of alternative dispute resolution.

What happens during a hearing?

Civil hearings are generally heard by a judge without a jury. The way hearings usually proceed is:

  • the case is called
  • the plaintiff's case is opened; witnesses can be called or the evidence can be by way of affidavit (formal statement)
  • the defendant's case is opened; witnesses can be called or the evidence can be by way of affidavit
  • the plaintiff may respond
  • each party may give final submissions
  • the judge hands down a judgment, or (if there is a jury) the jury delivers the verdict.


The judge must be satisfied that a case has been made out 'on the balance of probabilities'. This is a lower standard of proof than the criminal standard of 'beyond reasonable doubt'.

After a hearing, the judge will hand down a judgment. This may be done immediately after the hearing, or the judge may reserve (postpone) his or her decision for a later date.

Many district court judgments are published on the Caselaw NSW website.

Last updated:

18 Jul 2023

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