In brief - District Court Amendment Bill 2022 has broad support. If passed, there will be flow on effects for the insurance industry.

Yesterday, NSW Attorney General and Legislative Member Mark Speakman, Cronulla MP introduced into the Legislative Assembly the first print of the District Court Amendment Bill 2022

The Bill seeks to amend the legislation dealing with the current jurisdictional limit of the District Court. The general jurisdictional limit has not been amended for 25 years (the equitable jurisdiction even longer at 32 years) and arguably is long overdue. 

The changes proposed by the Attorney General would see the following increases:

  1. An increase of the general jurisdiction to $1.25 million (from $750,000).

  2. An increase in the equity proceedings jurisdictional limit to $100,000 (from $20,000).

  3. An increase to the jurisdictional limit applying to temporary injunctions to $100,000 (from $20,000).

The intention of the Bill is said to align the jurisdictional limit of the District Court with other jurisdictions and to account for inflation, as well as allow greater access to justice for litigants. The rationale between the access to justice is founded in the lower fees associated with filing in the District Court compared to the Supreme Court (as at January 2022 there were 6,720 filings just in the Common Law and Equity Divisions in the Supreme Court1. The District Court Annual Review 2021 indicates 4,002 registrations just in the civil jurisdiction2). It will also undoubtedly seek to relieve some of the pressure felt by the Supreme Court in the number of matters handled by the Court.

The proposed amendments are not intended to have a retrospective effect and it will be interesting to see whether there are delays in commencing proceedings in order for the new jurisdictional limit (once passed) to apply to plaintiffs' claims.

The first reading speech references wide discussion with the legal profession as well as the Courts, and that the Bill is broadly supported. 

Debate on the Bill has been adjourned for five clear days so news on whether the Bill will be passed may be confirmed before the end of the month. It seems more likely than not that the Bill will gain majority support and be passed.

Update 9 November 2022
The District Court Amendment Bill 2022 was passed by the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on the 8th November 2022 and was introduced to the Legislative Council today. 

The Parliament of NSW's Legislation Review Committee raised issue with the commencement of the Bill by proclamation as this process does not necessarily afford certainty to litigants and others affected, including the Court that will need to forecast the impact of the Bill's passing on its current systems and capacity. The Committee's preference was to commence on a fixed date or on assent. The Committee also indicated a flexible start date may help with administrative changes that will be necessary for its operation.

Update 18 November 2022
On 16 November 2022, the Bill was passed by Parliament and is now awaiting assent. The Second Reading speech in the Legislative Council mirrored that in the Legislative Assembly. Greens MP Abigail Boyd commented on the amount of time since the last increase to the jurisdictional limit and made the observation that the limits ought to be monitored and managed in a more timely manner. This may see review of the jurisdictional limit within shorter time frames.

The Bill will now come before the Governor for assent who receives the opinion of the Attorney-General as to the constitutionality of the Bill. It will then proceed to final approval at a meeting of the Executive Council and signed into law by the Governor. 

The Act will come into force 28 days after assent or on a date by proclamation. We consider the latter more likely given the comments of the Legislation Review Committee reported on in our 9 November update.

1. Supreme Court of NSW Provisional Statistics   
2. District Court of New South Wales Annual Review 2021

The statistics used in this commentary do not reflect the entirety of the respective Courts' case loads. For more comprehensive statistics, please access the relevant publications linked and other publicly available information published by the relevant authorities. 

This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2024.