What to expect at a hearing

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Disputes Tribunal hearings are informal. There’s no judge or jury. The hearing is run by a referee. It’s usually in a small hearing room rather than a court room. These rooms are set up like a meeting room with chairs around a table. You usually don’t need to give evidence under oath. You don’t have to dress formally. You can wear clothes you feel comfortable in.

Although the referee will lead you through the hearing, you’re more likely to get the result you want if you prepare well for the hearing and bring everything you need.

Who attends a hearing

Disputes Tribunal hearings are private. They are closed to the public and the media. You can’t have a lawyer represent you.

Applicant

If you’ve made the claim you’re called the applicant.

Respondent

If you’re defending a claim you’re called the respondent.

The parties

The applicant and the respondent (or respondents) together are called the parties.

Referee

The referee runs the hearing. Referees are not judges, but their decisions are binding. They’re usually legally qualified. Referees are chosen because they can make common sense decisions and help people to reach their own agreement.

Witnesses

You can bring witnesses to give evidence. It's up to you to ask any witnesses who can support your case to attend the hearing. If a witness refuses to attend, the Tribunal can order them to.

Support people

You can ask to bring a support person to the hearing. However, the support person is not allowed to speak or take part in the hearing unless asked by the referee.

Insurance companies

If the case involves your insurance company, they will be allowed to speak in support of your claim. This is because the hearing affects them. You’ll still attend the hearing.

Representatives

In rare cases, you may be able to bring a representative (someone to make your case for you). For example, if you:

  • are under 18
  • have a disability that stops you making your own case.

You must ask permission from the Tribunal before the hearing.

Note: The representative can’t be (or have been) a lawyer or an experienced advocate.

Interpreters

If you find English difficult and will need an interpreter, tell us as soon as possible. We’ll get you an independent interpreter for the hearing. This is free.

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How the hearing runs

  • The referee introduces everyone. They explain how the hearing will run.
  • Both parties explain their side of the dispute. The applicant speaks first. When both have spoken there’s a discussion about the points that are in disagreement.
  • Any witnesses are called into the hearing room to give evidence. Both parties and the referee can question the witnesses.
  • The referee tries to help you both agree how to settle the dispute. If you reach an agreement and it’s approved by the referee, it’s binding (you must follow the agreement).
  • If you can’t agree, the referee makes a decision. This decision may be given at the hearing or be posted to the parties later.
  • Sometimes the referee may need more information. If so, the rest of the hearing will be put off. You will need to come back at another time.

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Example claim & hearing

Read an example of a dispute – the story of a car crash [PDF, 26 KB]

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