If you have been handed or posted a court document, you may have been "served"!
1. What does it mean if you've been served?
If you have been served with a court document, this means that a party (known as the Plaintiff or Applicant) has commenced legal proceedings against you or your company (known as the Defendant or Respondent).
The legal proceedings will have been commenced for a particular purpose; for example, seeking payment of an outstanding debt or compensation for a loss the Plaintiff claims to have suffered because of you.
In most cases the Plaintiff will be seeking an order from the Court that you comply with their request; for example, an order that you pay the Plaintiff money. The documents will detail what the Plaintiff is seeking from the Court.
The type of document you are served with will depend on the Court or Tribunal where the proceedings are to be heard and or the nature of the proceedings. Whether you are served with a Complaint, Claim, Writ, or other document, they all indicate that proceedings have been commenced and that you will need to do something about it.
2. What should you look out for?
Deadlines!! With any legal proceeding, there are always very strict time deadlines which will often begin to run from the date you are served. It is therefore very important to note the date that you received the document.
If you want to dispute the claim, an important deadline of which to be aware are the number of days you have to file and serve a defence (or response).
If you intend to engage a lawyer to assist you with this, the lawyer will need sufficient time to review your matter and prepare a defence or a response and so you should seek legal advice as soon as possible once you have been served in order to meet a deadline.
The second important date to note is any hearing date. This date usually appears on documents in the following form:
"This application will be heard at 9.30am on 30 March 2019 at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court".
In addition, you should ensure that you read the document carefully to make sure you have a clear understanding of what the Plaintiff's case is and what they are seeking from the Court or Tribunal.
This will assist you in considering how you ought to deal with the matter; for example, whether it can or should be resolved without extensive and expensive court proceedings.
3. What happens if you do nothing?
If you do not respond within the time frame specified, the Plaintiff will generally be entitled to apply to the Court or Tribunal for a 'Default Order'; for example, an order in default of a Defence. A Default Order can then be enforced by the Plaintiff through various methods such as bankruptcy proceedings or a warrant to seize personal property. Default Orders will also be recorded on your credit profile.
If a hearing date has been allocated, you will be expected to attend the Court or Tribunal on that day. If you fail to attend, the matter may be dealt with and the Court may make a determination in your absence.
See our previous article, "I have a Court Hearing: What do I do?" for more information about what to expect when attending a court or tribunal hearing.
Alternatively, refer to the website of the court or tribunal to find detail of your case (if listed) and the date and time of any listed hearing.
4. What do I do now?
If you have been served, you should get legal advice as soon as possible. You will need to decide whether you wish to dispute the case being brought against you or whether there are more practical and cost-effective solutions available, such as Mediation.
How can Sharrock Pitman Legal assist me?
At Sharrock Pitman Legal, we can help you to understand what your legal proceedings are about. Our team of litigation lawyers, led by Accredited Specialist in Commercial Litigation, Simon Matters, will be happy to assist and advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of your legal position, in addition to advice about the future conduct and strategy of the matter. Please call on (03) 8561 3324 or alternatively fill in the form below.
The information contained in this article is intended to be of a general nature only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Any legal matters should be discussed specifically with one of our lawyers.
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For further information contact
Simon is a Special Counsel at Sharrock Pitman Legal.
He is an Accredited Specialist in Commercial Litigation (accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria) and deals with Litigation, Mediation of Disputes, and Law for Charities & Not-for-Profits. For further information, contact Simon Matters on his direct line (03) 8561 3324.