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Cost-effective Resolution of Commercial Disputes in the County Court of Victoria

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By Sofia Lozanova, Lawyer, MST Lawyers

A number of new measures put in place in the County Court of Victoria have produced a rise in the cost effective resolution of commercial disputes.

The revision of the County Court’s Commercial Division practice notes, along with the appointment of judicial registrars who perform the work of Judges, has enabled the Court to deal with a high volume of commercial disputes in a timely and cost effective manner.

Choice of jurisdiction

Traditionally, large or complex commercial disputes involving significant sums of money were run in the Supreme Court of Victoria.  However there has been a considerable shift in practitioners advising their clients and electing to issue proceedings in the County Court of Victoria instead.

There being no monetary limit in the Court’s civil jurisdiction has meant that the complicated cases can be heard and presided over by a Judge with experience in commercial law, at a considerably lower cost than in the Supreme Court and in half the time.

Clients are often surprised to learn that a litigated matter can take up to a year, if not longer, to go to trial.  In the Commercial Division of the County Court, trials are often listed within 6 months of the first court date.

Running of the matter

Unlike the Supreme Court of Victoria, where appearances are generally required, the focus in the County Court has been on reducing this need and encouraging parties to negotiate and agree on direction orders themselves.  This not only facilitates negotiations between the parties from the outset but considerably reduces costs as the need for appearances, as well as briefing counsel, is not ordinarily required.

Subject to the specific rules of the Court, the formalities in issuing interlocutory processes or applying for certain orders have been extinguished. Streamlining the application process has been achieved by allowing parties to communicate with the Court and make various applications by email only.  Parties and practitioners can also access case information and orders online.

Judicial Registrars

To assist parties in the timely resolution of their disputes, trained mediators with considerable experience in commercial litigation have been appointed as judicial registrars of the Court.  They perform various roles including review of consent orders, presiding over directions hearings and conducting judicial resolution conferences (which are primarily conducted as mediations).

Conclusion

The changes implemented in the County Court’s Commercial Division has by and large benefited parties in commercial disputes by:

a)         Reducing the time taken to hear a matter from about 12 to 6 months;

b)         Reducing the costs of running a case; and

c)         Ensuring a just and efficient resolution of their dispute.

For more information on commercial dispute resolution and the benefits of issuing proceedings in the County Court of Victoria, please contact our Dispute Resolution and Litigation team by email at litigation@mst.com.au or by telephone on Ph:+61 8540 0200.