Bringing or Defending a Civil Case
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3. What is the authority and what types of civil cases can be handled by the District Court?

The most common types of civil action handled by the District Court are:

  • breach of contract;
  • breach of quasi-contract;
  • tort (including personal injuries claims);
  • recovery of land or premises (more information can be found under the topic of Landlord and Tenant);
  • claims in equity, such as, the administration of the estate of a deceased person, trust, mortgage, specific performance (a court order requiring one of the parties to a contract to perform his part of the contract), maintenance of an infant, dissolution of partnership, relief against fraud or mistake;
  • distress (more information can be found under the topic of Landlord and Tenant);
  • employees' compensation cases relating to work-related injuries (there is no limit on the amount claimed);
  • sex discrimination, disability and family status discrimination cases (more information can be found under the topic of Anti-discrimination);
  • matrimonial cases including divorce, maintenance, custody and adoption of children (the court which handles these types of cases is also known as the Family Court, and more information can be found under the topic of Matrimonial Matters).

Claims for contract, quasi-contract and tort

For a claim in relation to a contract, quasi-contract or tort to be handled by the District Court, the amount of the claim must be over $50,000 but not more than $1 million . Even where your claim does not exceed $1 million, if the defendant counterclaims against you for over $1 million, the claim and the counterclaim or just the counterclaim may be transferred to the Court of First Instance of the High Court. If there are good reasons, the District Court may continue to handle the claim when the counterclaim exceeds $1 million, but first a report has to be made to the High Court, and then the High Court may transfer the case back to the District Court.

Note that if your claim exceeds $1 million, you may still start the action in the District Court provided you abandon the excess. (Equally, if the counterclaim exceeds $1 million, the defendant may waive the excess.) This can be a very practical strategy when the excess is small, since the legal costs incurred in an action that is commenced at the Court of First Instance are usually higher than that of the District Court.

Claims for possession/recovery of land or premises

The District Court deals with buildings or premises, where the annual rent or rateable value does not exceed $240,000. (However, in most tenancy cases where possession of the premises is claimed following the expiration of the term/period of the tenancy, or when the tenant is in breach of the terms of the tenancy, application for possession may also be made in the Lands Tribunal.)

Claims under equity jurisdiction

The two major types of civil litigation concerning equity are seeking court orders for specific performance (a court order requiring one of the parties to a contract to perform his part of the contract) and applying for an injunction (a court order requiring someone to stop doing something).

Generally speaking,

  • where proceedings do not relate to land, the maximum value involved shall not exceed $1 million.
  • where proceedings do relate to land, the maximum value involved shall not exceed $3 million; and further, for proceedings for the recovery of land or relating to the title to land, the rateable value of the land must not exceed $240,000.

Claims for arrears of rent only

If you merely want to recover arrears of rent and not to get back the premises, there is a special procedure known as "distress", whereby the court makes an order directing the goods of the tenant to be seized by the bailiff. If the tenant still fails to pay the rent, the goods will be sold and the proceeds of sale of the goods will be applied towards the outstanding rent. ( The application form and pro forma affidavit/affirmation can be obtained from the District Court Registry. You can complete the preliminary procedure yourself by returning the completed forms to the District Court Registry. The court will inform you when execution has been levied. However , it is recommended that you appoint a lawyer to handle a distress action.)

However, if you are claiming more than 12 months' rent, you cannot use the distress procedure. You should sue the tenant for breach of contract instead.

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