Monetary jurisdiction in the District Court

Acknowledgement: the following material has been prepared by His Honour Judge L Levy of the District Court of New South Wales. Commission staff are responsible for updating it.

[5-2000] Jurisdiction according to the nature of proceedings

The monetary jurisdiction of the District Court varies according to the nature of the proceedings.

For claims involving the general law, including common law actions, intentional torts and commercial disputes, the jurisdiction of the District Court is $750,000: s 4(1) of the District Court Act 1973.

The jurisdiction of the District Court to hear and determine motor accident claims and workplace injury damages claims is unlimited.

Problems with the jurisdictional limit can sometimes arise in respect of claims under the Civil Liability Act 2002. Since 1 July 2002, as a result of indexation, the maximum amount awardable for non-economic loss under the Act has increased from $350,000 to $635,000: s 16. As a result, in combination with other heads of damage, damages awards can approach, and at times exceed the jurisdictional limit of $750,000.

Section 144(2) CPA provides that if the District Court decides it lacks, or may lack, jurisdiction to hear and dispose of proceedings, the court must order the transfer of the proceedings to the Supreme Court: see Mahommed v Unicomb [2017] NSWCA 65.

[5-2005] Jurisdiction in “commercial matters”

Doubts as to the jurisdiction of the District Court in commercial matters were dealt with by the Justice Legislation Amendment Act (No 3) 2018. This Act amended the District Court Act 1973 to clarify that the District Court has jurisdiction to determine any action arising out of a commercial transaction in which the amount (if any) claimed does not exceed the court’s jurisdictional limit: s 44(1)(c1) commenced on assent on 28 November 2018 and has retrospective effect from 2 February 1998. The amendment was made retrospective to ensure that past judgments are protected from challenge: Sch 3, Pt 10; Second Reading Speech p 70: Legislative Assembly, 24 October 2018. See Gells Pty Ltd t/a Gells Lawyers v Jefferis [2019] NSWCA 59 at [5]–[6].

[5-2010] Consent to court having unlimited jurisdiction

There may be some circumstances where a defendant has provided consent to the court having unlimited jurisdiction. This is usually made known at the commencement of the hearing by the filing of a memorandum consent to unlimited jurisdiction: s 51(2)(a) of the District Court Act 1973. The failure of the party to file a memorandum consent that has already been signed by the opposing party, may be treated as an irregularity: s 63(2) of the Civil Procedure Act 2005, and see Woodward Pty Ltd v Kelleher (unrep, 30 May 1989, NSWCA).

[5-2020] Extension of jurisdiction

There may be circumstances where, by the nature and extent of the particularisation of a claim capable of being seen as in excess of $750,000, by default, a defendant has not indicated an objection to extend or expand the jurisdiction. In such circumstances, that extension is limited to an additional 50 per cent above the jurisdictional limit: s 51(2)(b) of the District Court Act 1973. In this way, the jurisdiction can increase from $750,000 to a maximum of $1,125,000. See Hadaway v Robinson [2010] NSWDC 188, where the plaintiff was awarded $1,161,368 in the absence of objection from the defendants. The court inferred that, as there was no demur to the plaintiff’s position, the first defendant had acceded to the extended jurisdictional submissions advanced by the plaintiff (at [686]). See Katter v Melhem (2015) 90 NSWLR 164; [2015] NSWCA 213 at [95]–[109].

[5-2030] Practical considerations

The following practical considerations arise:

  • the entry of judgment beyond $750,000 is permissible despite the jurisdictional limit: Richards v Cornford (2010) 76 NSWLR 464, per Basten JA at [12];

  • It is possible that an appeal based on considerations of procedural fairness could arise from the entry of a judgment in excess of $750,000. Recognising this possibility, it may be preferable, where appropriate, to find a verdict in the assessed amount, but to defer the entry of final judgment of an amount in excess of $750,000, until the parties have had an opportunity to make submissions as to why the mechanism provided by s 51(2)(b) of the District Court Act 1973 should not apply and have effect.

Legislation

  • Civil Liability Act 2002 ss 16

  • Civil Procedure Act 2005 ss 63(2), 144(2)

  • District Court Act 1973 ss 4(1), 51(2)(a), (b)