A guide to representing yourself when you defend a civil proceeding in the Trial Division of the Supreme Court of Victoria
A civil proceeding is a proceeding that is not related to a criminal matter. The Supreme Court hears many different types of civil proceedings. Usually, these civil proceedings are complex or involve large amounts of money. Sometimes the civil proceeding is heard in the Supreme Court because the law requires it.
This page offers a guide on how to defend a civil proceeding. There are also other guides for the most common types of civil proceedings, such as to appeal or review a decision or to request a review of your solicitor’s bill.
Guide - Defend a civil proceeding
View the guide below, or download a printable version of this guide at the bottom of the page.
The information in the guide and links is for people representing themselves throughout the court process. It includes what to do at each stage, what forms you need to complete, what documents you need to provide, court fees and costs that apply and what it means to represent yourself in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Types of civil proceedings we hear
The Supreme Court hears many different types of civil proceedings. Usually, the matters we hear are complex or involve large amounts of money. Sometimes we hear the matter because the law requires it.
The information in this section applies to almost all civil proceedings. Where possible, use the guides linked below that have specific information.
If your matter is a civil proceeding under the Corporations Act, contact the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator to discuss your situation. The information in this section does not apply to Corporations Act proceedings.
Common types of civil proceedings:
- commercial disputes over contracts
- mortgage default claims
- property disputes
- negligence claims (for example, involving personal injury or property damage)
- defamation claims
- claims in relation to deceased estates
- employment disputes
- insolvency disputes.
We hear appeals against decisions made by the County Court, Magistrates’ Court, Children’s Court, Coroners Court and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
We also hear appeals against a decision made by a Supreme Court judge, associate judge and judicial registrar , appeals against decisions made by government bodies in Victoria and judicial reviews.
Each type of civil proceeding is managed differently depending on the law that applies and the Division and List that manages that type of case. Most civil proceedings are heard in the Commercial Court and Common Law Division.
Almost all civil proceedings must be started within a certain time limit, which varies. Check the time limit that applies in your case.
The Limitation of Actions Act 1958 gives the time limits for most civil proceedings started by writ .
Check the relevant Supreme Court rules and the law that gives you the power to start a civil proceeding in the Supreme Court.
There are time limits for when you must serve documents. These vary depending on your type of case.
If you start by writ or originating motion
Civil proceedings usually start by:
- writ, or
- originating motion.
These are legal words to describe the type of document you use to start the process.
Some proceedings can only be started by originating motion. This is often required when:
- there is no defendant , or
- you are making an application to the Court under a particular Act, or
- the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015 or the Supreme Court (Miscellaneous Civil Proceedings) Rules 2018 tell you to use an originating motion.
It can be difficult to work out if you need to start by writ or originating motion, and the time limits that apply.
Consider getting some legal advice if you are not sure.
Consider the cost
Try to resolve the issue without involving the justice system.
Legal proceedings in the Supreme Court can be very expensive. Going to court should be a last resort.
You may need to pay court fees at different stages unless you have a fee waiver.
If you lose your case, you may need to pay some or all of the other party ’s costs . This includes what they spent on lawyers and any other expenses, such as the cost of expert reports.
Be aware – these costs can be substantial.
Get help from organisations that provide legal information and free or low-cost legal services.
Consider paying for some legal advice even if it is only to help you with a particular part of the process. For example, it is highly recommended that a lawyer help you prepare your defence , if the proceeding started by writ .
Get to know Court procedures
Read the following documents carefully. They provide important information and guidance:
- Civil Procedure Act 2010, especially sections 7 to 26 and sections 41 to 42
- Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015, especially orders 4 to 6.
- The Court’s practice note for the list that relates to your matter
- Practice Note SC Gen 7 – Transcript in Civil Proceedings.
Get to know your obligations
As a party in a civil proceeding, you need to understand what’s known as overarching obligations . See sections 16 to 26 of the Civil Procedure Act 2010.
Do your legal research
Make sure you understand the law that applies to your case by doing some legal research. Read about cases similar to yours, and note any cases where the law you are relying on has been applied in a way that you think proves your arguments.
Create a RedCrest account for filing documents
You file documents with the Court using the online system RedCrest.
The RedCrest Electronic Filing User Guide has information and instructions.
Before you file documents, the Court encourages you to contact the Self-represented Litigant Coordinator. The Coordinator can talk to you about Court process and check you have the right documents. They cannot give legal advice.
Check if you need to order a transcript
A transcript must be arranged by the parties and paid for in advance for all final hearings and sometimes for other hearings.
Read Practice Note SC Gen 7 (Transcript in Civil Proceedings) to know when and how to get the transcript.
Get to know legal terms
Check the glossary for common legal words and terms.
Stage 1: The proceeding starts
In Stage 1, the plaintiff files a:
- writ , or
- originating motion .
If the proceeding is started by writ, the plaintiff usually completes a Statement of Claim . It must include:
- the legal basis for the claim and essential facts of the case
- enough detail for you, the defendant , to understand what the case is about and what you are defending
- order they want the Court to make.
If the plaintiff does not have all this information yet, they file an Indorsement of Claim. This is a temporary substitute for the Statement of Claim. It must include the:
- nature of the case
- reason why they are starting this proceeding, and
- order they want the Court to make.
More details on what should be included in these documents are in Orders 5 and 13 of the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015.
Stage 1 checklist
- The plaintiff files a writ or originating motion to start the civil proceeding
Stage 2: Documents are served on the defendant
In Stage 2, the plaintiff serves a writ or originating motion on you and any other defendants.
Documents served on you
The plaintiff, or someone acting on their behalf, serves you with the documents the plaintiff prepared in Stage 1.
These documents have the Supreme Court seal on them.
When the documents are served
There are time limits for when documents must be served. These vary depending on the type of case or location of service. You can read about time limits in the law that applies and the Supreme Court Rules.
How documents are served
The plaintiff (or someone acting on their behalf) must serve the writ or originating motion in person if serving an individual. This means they must:
- leave a copy of the document with you, or
- if you do not accept the copy, put it down near you and tell you the nature of the document.
If serving a company, the plaintiff can post the documents to the registered office of the company.
Although some documents need to be served in person, the plaintiff does not need to do this themselves. They can ask a friend, family member or a professional to serve the documents for them.
Stage 2 checklist
- The plaintiff serves a writ or originating motion on you and any other defendants
Stage 3: The defendant may respond to the documents
You may respond to the documents served on you by:
- filing a Notice of Appearance , and
- serving it on the plaintiff.
If you do not file a Notice of Appearance (and defence , if your proceeding started by writ), this can have serious consequences. The plaintiff can ask for an administrative process known as judgment in default. A judgment may be issued against you without a hearing .
The writ or originating motion will generally give the time limit for filing a Notice of Appearance.
A Notice of Appearance is how you officially let the plaintiff and the Court know you want to be involved in the proceeding.
If the proceeding started by writ and includes an Indorsement of Claim
The plaintiff must file a Statement of Claim and serve it on you. After you have been served the Statement of Claim, you have 30 days to file and serve your defence.
If the proceeding started by writ and includes a Statement of Claim
You must file with the Court and serve on the plaintiff a defence. Do this within 30 days of filing your Notice of Appearance.
Your defence is a document you create. It outlines your response to the legal and factual matters raised by the plaintiff and anything else you want to include. It is best to respond to each numbered paragraph in the plaintiff’s Statement of Claim.
Once you have filed your defence, registry will email you a date for the directions hearing , if one is needed.
If the proceeding started by originating motion
The plaintiff must now ‘summons ’ you to attend Court. That means, you are served an official document that asks you to attend Court and says why you are being summoned.
The summons will include the time, date and location for the hearing. Often, the first hearing in a civil proceeding will be a directions hearing (see Stage 4). This will be noted on the summons.
Unlike proceedings started by writ, you are not required to complete a defence.
Stage 3 checklist
- File a Notice of Appearance if you want to be involved in the proceeding; know the consequences if you do not
- Serve the Notice of Appearance on the plaintiff
- If the proceeding started by writ:
- file with the Court and serve on the plaintiff your ‘defence’; know the consequences if you do not file one
- the Court will email you the date for the directions hearing, if needed.
- If the proceeding started by originating motion:
- the plaintiff will serve on you a summons that advises the date for the hearing.
Stage 4: Attend the directions hearing, if needed
A directions hearing is only held if there is a defendant and the defendant has lodged a defence. Usually, a directions hearing is only held in proceedings started by writ.
If a directions hearing is listed , the Court expects the plaintiff and defendant to attend. If you cannot attend for any substantial reason, for example if you have a medical emergency, contact the Court immediately.
The directions hearing is not when you present your arguments to the Court. This happens at the final hearing (trial).
What to bring
Bring the documents served on you in Stage 2, something to make notes on such as a notepad, tablet or laptop and your diary, so you can check if dates proposed are suitable.
After the directions hearing
Following the directions hearing, the Court will send you a formal copy of the Court’s orders. It details what you and the other parties need to do to prepare for the trial.
Depending on the complexity of the case, there may be more than one directions hearing.
Stage 4 checklist
- Attend the directions hearing, if one is needed
Stage 5: Get your case ready for the judge
If a directions hearing was held, the Court will send you orders that detail what to do to get your case ready for the judge. This includes which documents to prepare and when you need to file them.
What you need to prepare depends on the case. Some things that often need to be prepared include:
- List of authorities
- Outline of submissions
- List of witnesses.
To help you prepare and know what to expect at the hearing, watch our video:
Preparing for a hearing (video)
An affidavit is a formal written statement, which sets out facts known to you. It must be signed under oath or affirmation, verifying that the information provided is true.
An exhibit is an attachment to your affidavit. Complete a Certificate Identifying Exhibit (Form 43A) form for each exhibit.
For more information watch our video Completing an affidavit.
How to complete an affidavit (video)
List of authorities
This is a document you prepare that lists the cases, legislation and other resources such as textbooks and journal articles you say support your case. These are things you will refer to in your submissions – the arguments you want the judge to consider.
Outline of submissions
This is a written summary that includes:
- your facts of the case
- the law that applies (legislation and cases), and
- what relief or remedy you are seeking (what you want the Court to order).
In your document, arrange these points under headings. You can expand on some or all of these points at the hearing.
Stage 5 checklist
- Follow the Court’s instructions about what to do
- Prepare for the hearing by watching the Court’s videos
Stage 6: The final hearing (trial)
The Court will send you an order that confirms the date.
What to expect at the trial
To help understand what to expect at the trial, including what to bring with you, how to address the judge, where to sit and what you will need to do, see the video on our website:
Attending Court – the day of your hearing (video)
Stage 6 checklist
- Attend the trial
- Know what to expect by watching the Court’s video
Stage 7: The decision
When to expect the decision
You can expect a decision within weeks or months of the trial, depending on the complexity of the case.
Finding out the decision
The Court will email you a date and time when you return to Court to get the judge’s decision. This is called the handing down of the decision. Plaintiffs and defendants are strongly encouraged to attend. However, if you do not attend the Court will email you the decision.
At the handing down of the decision, if you win the case you can ask the Court to order the plaintiff to pay your costs , if you had any. If you lose, the plaintiff can ask the Court to order you to pay their costs.
If you lose your case
Any party who loses a case may be able to appeal the decision.
If the decision was made by a judge, or an associate judge given the power to act in the role of a judge for your proceeding, you appeal to the Court of Appeal .
The Trial Division and Court of Appeal are the two main parts of the Supreme Court of Victoria.
See the guide Representing yourself in a Court of Appeal civil proceeding.
Stage 7 checklist
- Attend the handing down of the decision
- Know your options if you are not successful and want to appeal
If you require further guidance contact the Self-Represented Litigant Coordinator.