A guide to representing yourself when you start a civil proceeding in 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 a civil proceeding is heard in the Supreme Court because the law requires it.

Guide - Start 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 is for people who are representing themselves in the Supreme Court of Victoria. 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.

During the process, you may need to complete an affidavit . See our guide if you need help preparing an affidavit.

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 a 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 the 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. 

Time limits

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

Before you apply, consider if you have tried all ways to resolve the issue without involving the justice system. 

Legal proceedings in the Supreme Court can be very expensive.  

Court fees

You need to pay court fees at different stages unless you have a fee waiver. 

These include fees for:

  • Starting a proceeding (commencement fee)
  • Filing an interlocutory application (for example, a stay application)
  • Setting down (confirming a date) for the hearing  
  • Hearing fees per day or part day. 

Costs

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. 

Consider paying for some legal advice even if it is only to help you with a particular part of the process. See organisations that may be able to help you.   

For example, it is highly recommended that a lawyer help you prepare your:

writ and statement of claim , if starting by writ

or

originating motion (and affidavit if you are filing one), if starting by originating motion. 

Get to know Court procedures

Read the following documents carefully. They provide important information and guidance:

If you contact the Court, quote the proceeding number for your case. You are given this number when your documents are accepted by the Court in Stage 1. It looks something like this S ECI 2019 54321.

Get to know your obligations

As a party in a civil proceeding, you need to understand what’s known as overarching obligations . These are in sections 16-26 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. Note any cases where the law you are relying on has been applied in a way you think proves your arguments. You may want to refer to these cases in your submissions and list of authorities . The Court may ask you to prepare these in Stage 5. 

You can find cases from all courts on the AustLII website

Create a RedCrest account  

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

The parties must order, and pay for, a transcript for all final hearings and sometimes 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. 

Know how to stop a civil proceeding

You can stop a civil proceeding. However, you may need to pay the defendant ’s costs up to that point unless:

you and the defendant agree you do not have to pay their costs, or

the Court orders that you do not have to pay their costs. 

If you started a proceeding by writ, in some situations you will need to get the defendant’s agreement or the Court’s permission to stop the proceeding. Contact the Self-represented Litigant Coordinator to discuss your situation.   

If you started a proceeding by originating motion, you can stop the proceeding at any time if you have the permission of the Court or the defendant agrees. 

How to stop a civil proceeding

Complete a Notice of Discontinuance form and sign it. Ask the defendant to sign as well, to show they agree.

File the form in RedCrest. Wait for a notification from RedCrest that a copy with the Court’s seal is available. 

Download and print the sealed copy and serve it on the defendant. 

If the defendant will not sign the form, contact the Self-represented Litigant Coordinator to discuss your situation.

A writ is a type of document that starts a civil proceeding.

A civil proceeding started by writ usually goes through the following stages.

Stage 1: Start your civil proceeding

In Stage 1, you must complete and file a: 

Completing the writ

In the writ, complete the Statement of Claim section if you have enough information. 

File it as soon as possible. The Court cannot set a date for the directions hearing until you have filed a Statement of Claim and the defendant has filed a ‘defence ’ in response to it.  

Statement of Claim

The Statement of Claim must include:

  • the legal basis for your claim 
  • essential facts of your case 
  • what you want the Court to order.

You do not need to provide evidence at this stage. Evidence is presented at the trial. You need to give enough detail for the defendant to understand what the case is about.

Number each paragraph. This makes it simpler for you, the defendant and the judge to refer to a particular point during the trial.

More details on what to include are in Orders 5 and 13 of the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015.

Indorsement of Claim

If you do not yet know the legal basis for your claim and essential facts, file a separate page with the information you know. Call it Indorsement of Claim. This is a temporary substitute for the Statement of Claim. 

The Indorsement of Claim must include the: 

  • nature of your case
  • reason why you are starting this proceeding, and 
  • what you want the Court to order.

Include enough information for the defendant to understand what the case is about and why it involves them. 

When your documents are accepted

After you file your documents in RedCrest, the Court will check they meet the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015. The Court will advise if you need to make any changes. You will be notified in RedCrest when your documents have been accepted and no other changes are needed. 

Stage 1 checklist  

  • File your writ (Form 5A)
  • Include a Statement of Claim if you have enough detail, or an Indorsement of Claim if you do not 
  • File Overarching Obligations Certification and Proper Basis Certification
  • Make any changes the Court requests
  • Expect a RedCrest notification once your documents are accepted.

Stage 2: Serve your documents on the defendant  

Who to serve

You serve your documents on the defendant, or on each defendant if there is more than one.

What documents to serve

In Stage 1, RedCrest notifies you when your documents are accepted. It includes a link to where you can download the writ with the Court’s seal on it. You serve this document on the defendant. 

You do not need to serve the Overarching Obligations Certification or Proper Basis Certification. 

When to serve documents

There are time limits for when you must serve documents. These vary depending on your type of case. 

Check the law that applies and the relevant Supreme Court rules for time limits. 

How to serve documents

You (or someone acting on your behalf) must serve the writ in person if you are serving an individual. To do this: 

  • leave a copy of the document with the person to be served, or 
  • if the person does not accept the copy, put it down near them and tell them the nature of the document.

If you are serving a company, you can post your documents to the registered office of the company.  

The Court may request you to swear or affirm an affidavit proving that you have served your documents.

Some documents must be served in person, but you do not need to do this yourself. You can ask a friend, family member or a professional to serve the documents for you. They must be prepared to sign an affidavit confirming they served the documents, if the Court requests this.

If you have any questions about serving documents contact the Self-represented Litigant Coordinator.

Stage 2 checklist  

  • Download from RedCrest and print the writ accepted by the Court, with the Court’s seal on it
  • Serve this document on the defendant or defendants.

Stage 3: Defendant may respond to your document  

The defendant may respond to your writ by filing a Notice of Appearance and serving it on you. 

A Notice of Appearance is how they officially let you and the Court know they want to be involved in the proceeding.

There are time limits for when they must do this. These vary depending on the type of case and location of service.

The defendant may file a defence

Within 30 days of filing their Notice of Appearance, the defendant may file with the Court and serve on you a defence. This document outlines how they intend to defend the claims you made in your writ. 

The Court usually sets a date for a directions hearing once the defendant files their defence. Registry will email you and the defendant to advise this date. 

Stage 3 checklist 

  • The defendant may serve a Notice of Appearance on you
  • The defendant may also serve on you their ‘defence’
  • Registry will email you and the defendant the date for your directions hearing

Stage 4: Attend the directions hearing, if needed (writ)

A directions hearing if this only held if there is a defendant and the defendant has lodged a defence.

The Court will advise you if a directions hearing is scheduled. 

About the directions hearing

A directions hearing is a short hearing to decide matters related to the timing of when things happen during the proceeding. This includes what has to happen, who does it and when it needs to be done. 

The directions hearing is not when you present your arguments to the Court. This happens at the trial. 

If a directions hearing is scheduled, 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.

What to bring to the directions hearing

Bring the documents you filed in Stage 1, 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

After the directions hearing, the Court will send you a formal copy of the Court’s orders. The orders say 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 hearings, if the Court schedules one.  

Stage 5: Get your case ready for the judge 

The Court will tell you what you need to do to get your case ready for the judge. This includes which documents to prepare and when you need to file them with the Court. 

What you need to prepare depends on the case. Some things the Court may order you to prepare include:

  • Affidavit
  • List of authorities
  • Outline of submissions
  • List of witnesses.

To help you prepare and know what to expect at the final hearing, watch our videos:

  • Preparing for a hearing
  • Attending Court – the day of your hearing

Affidavit

This is a formal written statement, which sets out facts known to you. 

It must be sworn to be true and correct in front of an authorised person, on oath or by affirmation. It is a serious crime to knowingly make a false statement.

For more information, watch our video Completing an affidavit below.

Exhibits

An exhibit is an attachment to your affidavit. You need to complete an exhibit cover sheet for each exhibit, called a Certificate Identifying Exhibit (Form 43A). 

List of authorities

This is a list of the cases, legislation and other sources (such as textbooks and journal articles) that you say support your case.

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 trial  

Finding out your trial date

The date for the trial may be decided at the directions hearing, if you had one. 

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, see the Court’s video Attending Court – the day of your hearing. 

The video includes what to bring with you, how to address the judge, where to sit and what you will need to do.

Stage 6 checklist  

  • Attend the final hearing (trial)
  • Know what to expect by watching the Court’s video 

Stage 7: The decision 

When to expect the decision

The judge usually reserves their decision (judgment ). This means they give their judgment at a later date. This gives the judge time to consider both parties’ submissions and write reasons for their 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 need to come 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. 

At the handing down of the decision, if you lose, the defendant may ask the Court to order you to pay their costs . If you win, you can ask the Court to order the defendant to pay your costs, if you had any.

Costs are fees for lawyers’ professional services and disbursements (out-of-pocket expenses). This includes court fees, fees for expert reports, medical reports and photocopying. If you are representing yourself and you win, you cannot claim the time you spent working on your case as a cost.

If you lose your case

Any party who loses a case may be able to appeal the decision. 

You appeal to the Court of Appeal if the decision was made by: 

  • a judge
  • an associate judge given the power to act in the role of a judge for your proceeding. 

The Trial Division and Court of Appeal are the two main parts of the Supreme Court of Victoria. 
See our 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

An originating motion is a type of document that starts a civil proceeding.

A civil proceeding started by originating motion usually goes through the following stages.

Stage 1: Start your civil proceeding  

Complete and file your originating motion document. In most civil proceedings you use:  

In some cases you would use:

Complete and file:

When your documents are accepted

After you file your documents in RedCrest, the Court will check they meet the Supreme Court (General Civil Procedure) Rules 2015. The Court will advise if you need to make any changes. You will be notified in RedCrest when your documents have been accepted and no other changes are needed. 

Stage 1 checklist  

  • File your originating motion
  • File Overarching Obligations Certification
  • File Proper Basis Certification
  • Make any changes the Court requests
  • Expect a RedCrest notification once your documents are accepted.

Stage 2: Serve your document on the defendant  

In Stage 2, you serve your originating motion on the defendant.

Who to serve

You serve your documents on the defendant, or on each defendant if there is more than one.

What documents to serve

In Stage 1, RedCrest notifies you when your documents are accepted. It includes a link to where you can download the originating motion with the Court’s seal on it. You serve this document on the defendant. 

You do not need to serve the Overarching Obligations Certification or Proper Basis Certification. 

When to serve documents

There are time limits for when you must serve documents. These vary depending on your type of case. 

Check the law that applies and the relevant Supreme Court rules for time limits. 

How to serve documents

You (or someone acting on your behalf) must serve the originating motion in person if you are serving an individual. 

To do this: 

  • leave a copy of the document with the person to be served, or 
  • if the person does not accept the copy, put it down near them and tell them the nature of the document.

If you are serving a company, you can post your documents to the registered office of the company.  

The Court may request you to swear or affirm an affidavit proving that you have served your documents.

Do I need to serve the documents myself?

Some documents must be served in person, but you do not need to do this yourself. You can ask a friend, family member or a professional to serve the documents for you. They must be prepared to sign an affidavit confirming they served the documents, if the Court requests this.

If you have any questions about serving documents contact the Self-represented Litigant Coordinator.

Stage 2 checklist  

  • Download from RedCrest and print the originating motion accepted by the Court, with the Court’s seal on it
  • Serve this document on the defendant or defendants. 

Stage 3: Defendant may respond to your document  

The defendant may respond to your writ by filing a Notice of Appearance and serving it on you. 

A Notice of Appearance is how they officially let you and the Court know they want to be involved in the proceeding. 

There are time limits for when they must do this. These vary depending on the type of case and location of service.

Summons the defendant to attend Court

If the defendant has served a Notice of Appearance on you, you must now ‘summons ’ them to attend Court. The summons is an official Court document that requests them to attend the hearing . It also tells the defendant what the hearing is about. 

Get a date for your directions hearing

First, get a date for your hearing. The process for doing this varies across the Court’s divisions and lists. Check the practice note for the list that relates to your matter.

File a summons

When you have the date for your directions hearing:

  • complete a summons (Form 45A), and 
  • file it with the Court. 

Serve the sealed summons

When RedCrest notifies you that your summons has the Court’s seal on it, serve this document on the defendant. 

Stage 3 checklist  

  • The defendant may serve a Notice of Appearance on you
  • Get a date for your directions hearing (the process for doing this varies – check the practice note for your list)
  • Complete and file the summons (Form 45A)
  • Wait for RedCrest to notify you that your summons has the Court seal on it 
  • Serve the sealed summons on the defendant

Stage 4: Attend the directions hearing, if needed  

A directions hearing if this only held if there is a defendant and the defendant has lodged a defence .

It is usually only held in proceedings started by writ.

The Court will advise you if a directions hearing is scheduled. 

About the directions hearing

A directions hearing is a short hearing to decide matters related to the timing of when things happen during the proceeding. This includes what has to happen, who does it and when it needs to be done. 

The directions hearing is not when you present your arguments to the Court. This happens at the trial. 

If a directions hearing is scheduled, 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.

What to bring to the directions hearing

Bring the documents you filed in Stage 1, 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

After the directions hearing, the Court will send you a formal copy of the Court’s orders. The orders say 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 hearings, if the Court schedules one  

Stage 5: Get your case ready for the judge  

The Court will tell you what you need to do to get your case ready for the judge. This includes which documents to prepare and when you need to file them with the Court. 

What you need to prepare depends on the case. Some things the Court may order you to prepare include:

  • Affidavit
  • List of authorities
  • Outline of submissions
  • List of witnesses.

Affidavit

This is a formal written statement, which sets out facts known to you. 

It must be sworn to be true and correct in front of an authorised person, on oath or by affirmation. It is a serious crime to knowingly make a false statement.

For more information, watch our video Completing an affidavit.

Exhibits

An exhibit is an attachment to your affidavit. You need to complete an exhibit cover sheet for each exhibit, called a Certificate Identifying Exhibit (Form 43A). 

List of authorities

This is a list of the cases, legislation and other sources (such as textbooks and journal articles) that you say support your case.

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).

Preparing for your final hearing

To help you prepare and know what to expect at the final hearing, watch our videos:

  • Preparing for a hearing
  • Attending Court – the day of your 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 trial  

Finding out your trial date

The date for the trial may be decided at the directions hearing, if you had one. 

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, see the Court’s video Attending Court – the day of your hearing. 

The video includes what to bring with you, how to address the judge, where to sit and what you will need to do.

Stage 6 checklist  

  • Attend the final hearing (trial)
  • Know what to expect by watching the Court’s video

Stage 7: The decision  

When to expect the decision

The judge usually reserves their decision (judgment ). This means they give their judgment at a later date. This gives the judge time to consider both parties’ submissions and write reasons for their 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 need to come 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. 

At the handing down of the decision, if you lose, the defendant may ask the Court to order you to pay their costs . If you win, you can ask the Court to order the defendant to pay your costs, if you had any.

Costs are fees for lawyers’ professional services and disbursements (out-of-pocket expenses). This includes court fees, fees for expert reports, medical reports and photocopying. If you are representing yourself and you win, you cannot claim the time you spent working on your case as a cost.

If you lose your case

Any party who loses a case may be able to appeal the decision. 

You appeal to the Court of Appeal if the decision was made by: 

  • a judge
  • an associate judge given the power to act in the role of a judge for your proceeding. 

The Trial Division and Court of Appeal are the two main parts of the Supreme Court of Victoria. 

See the guide on our website for 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.

Date of publication