Hearings in the Federal Courts

This factsheet is designed to give you some basic information to assist you to prepare for a court hearing in a civil case in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court. This is general information only and legal advice should be sought for information relevant to your particular area of law.

Know what your hearing is about.

  • If the other party has brought the application, read through their material carefully.
  • Is it a trial, the hearing of an interlocutory application or a directions hearing?
  • If you have received an originating application, is it the first hearing?

What outcome do you want from the hearing?

  • An application should list the orders that the other party is asking the court to make. You should read these carefully.
  • If you agree with the orders they seek, then you may be able to come to an agreement with the other party so that “consent orders” can be made. This saves the court time, can save the parties’ costs, and can relieve the stress of appearing in court.

Can you attend the hearing?

  • The application will state which courthouse the hearing will be held in.
  • The court expects the parties to proceedings to progress their case.
  • If you’ve been properly served with the application but you do not turn up to the hearing, the court may still deal with the matter and make orders against you.
  • In some cases, you can approach the court registry to make arrangements to appear by telephone. You can check the court website for the contact details of the registry where your matter is being heard.
  • Since March 2020, most courts in Australia have changing rules about whether hearings are occurring remotely or in person. The registry can provide more information about the current restrictions in place.

Applying for an adjournment?

  • If you have to apply for an adjournment, you should approach the other side first and see if they will consent to an adjournment.
  • You may be exposing yourself to the risk of an adverse costs order.
  • Adjournments can be especially difficult to obtain for trials and final hearings, especially if they have been set down for some time.

You should make an application for an adjournment as strong as possible.

  • If you are asking for an adjournment on health grounds, you should have an affidavit or at least a detailed medical certificate from your doctor setting out why you cannot attend or participate in the hearing, what treatment you are receiving and when you will be able to participate in a hearing.
  • Never assume that an adjournment will be granted if you simply fax or write to the court. If you can’t get the other side’s consent you will need to go to the hearing and convince the judge that the hearing of the application should be adjourned.

Filing a response.

  • If you are going to be filing anything in response to the application, make sure you file and serve a sealed copy (that is, a copy stamped by the court) of your material on the other party as early as possible before the hearing.

Getting organised.

  • You should make sure you obtain a copy of all the court documents for the proceedings, which will include those documents you have filed and those that the other side has filed. You may like to organise these in a ring-binder folder by date and put tabs on each one so you can find them quickly.
  • If there are any documents you have only filed in the 2 or 3 days before the hearing, it is a good idea to take extra copies of these documents along with you to the hearing in case the other side or the judge have not received a copy yet.
  • You will also need at least 4 copies of any documents you are giving to the court during the hearing, like submissions: one for you, one for the judge, one for the other side and one for the court file. If there is more than one respondent, you will need extra copies for them too.

Consider taking a support person to the hearing.

  • Being in court is a stressful experience for many people and it can be helpful to have someone to attend the hearing with you.
  • While only a lawyer can represent a party in court, the court can give leave to allow a non-lawyer, called a “McKenzie friend” to assist you in the court. This person will not be able to speak for you but may be allowed to sit with you and take notes.

Get to know the courtroom.

  • Familiarise yourself with the court room and where you need to sit before the date of your hearing.
  • The Federal Circuit Court has a Virtual Court Tour you can watch online.
  • You could also go and watch some court hearings at the court before your own case.

Things that might happen on the day.

  • Sometimes, when you arrive at a hearing, the other party’s lawyer might approach you with a “consent order” or with submissions that they have drafted.
  • While this can be intimidating for many self-represented parties, it is often how court matters are conducted by lawyers.
  • If you need time to read through the documents, tell the judge, and your matter may be able to be dealt with later in the day.

Before you leave a hearing make sure that you know:

  1. What orders were made?
  2. What is your next step, and when do you have to take it?
  3. What is the other party required to do and when?
  4. Take notes. If you’re uncertain about what orders have been made, ask the judge to explain.

After the hearing

  • After the hearing, the court usually prepares a final version of any orders.
  • These will be available for you to access through your eLodgment portal once they are available.

More information

You can also read our factsheets on Court etiquette and Hearings in court – commonly used words.


The information in this resource is for general information purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact LawRight or another lawyer. LawRight can only give advice to people who are eligible for our services.