Starting a Matter

When can I apply to the Federal Court?

You can apply to the Federal Court if it has jurisdiction to hear your case. The Court has jurisdiction in relation to almost all civil (that is, non-criminal) matters arising under Australian federal law and some summary and indictable criminal matters.

The types of matters are organised and managed nationally by reference to subject areas, which are known as National Practice Areas (NPAs) (see the Descriptions of NPAs).

The Federal Court also has the power to hear appeals and related applications from decisions of Courts (further information is available on the Court's site regarding the appellate jurisdiction of the Federal Court).

The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia may also have jurisdiction to hear your case and the fees in that Court can be considerably lower than those in the Federal Court.

See the Federal Circuit and Family Court's website for their contact details.

Who is who in a matter?

PartiesPeople involved in a court case are generally called parties and include applicants, plaintiffs, appellants, respondents and defendants. Applicants and respondents may be individuals, organisations or corporations. There can be more than one applicant or respondent. If a party is a corporation, a lawyer must represent it unless the Court gives leave (permission) otherwise.
ApplicantIf you apply to the Court to start a matter you will be called the applicant, or in admiralty and corporations matters you will be called the plaintiff. If you apply to start an appeal, then you will be called the appellant.
RespondentIf a matter has been started against you, you will be called the respondent, or in admiralty and corporations matters, you will be called the defendant. If an appeal is started against you, you will also be known as the defendant.
Self-represented litigant If you are a party to a proceeding and you do not have legal representation and are conducting the matter and acting for yourself then you will be treated by the Court as a Self-represented litigant.

What forms do I need?

To start a matter you need to prepare an application form and any other documents required by the Federal Court Rules (see Division 8.1 of the Rules).

The application form you use will depend on the type of matter you want to start however, many applications are commenced by using Form 15 – Originating Application. An application may need to be supported by other documents see "What documents do I need other than the application form?".

Details about the specific forms you may need to start a matter and the applicable rules are set out on each of the NPA webpages).

A list of forms and relevant rules which apply to Federal Court matters is available on the Court's website. If you are still not sure which form to use, you should contact the Registry.

The rules relating to the form and content of an application can be found in Division 8.1 of the Rules.

You can complete forms by: 

  • filling in the blank spaces in handwriting
  • retyping the form to include your details or
  • downloading a copy from the Court's website and typing in your details.

What documents do I need other than the application form?

Depending on the type of matter you are starting, you may need to prepare documents that support your claim.

The types of documents you may need to prepare include:

Section 6 of the Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011 may require that you also prepare a genuine steps statement (Form 16). If required you must complete the document and specify the steps taken to try to resolve the issues in dispute. If no steps have been taken, it must specify why. The genuine steps statement must be filed with the originating application.

The supporting documents must describe the nature of your claim and the facts that your claim is based on.

You can download copies of these forms from the Court's website.

How do I get my documents to the Court (Lodging and Filing)?


Once your application and any supporting documents have been completed you need to get these to the Court (see Division 2.3 of the Rules). This is called "lodging". If the Court accepts those documents, that is referred to as "filing".

You can lodge your application (and any other documents during the course of your matter) by:

  • eLodging on the Court's electronic eLodgment system
  • going to your local Registry or
  • posting the original documents with a written request for the action required in relation to the document (Note: hard copy documents will be returned to the party once filed)
  • faxing.

Important note: The Court does not accept filing by email.


The document will be "filed" if has been properly lodged (in one of the ways described above) and:

  • if it has been accepted by the proper Registry and stamped as filed (or accepted by a Registry other than the proper Registry and is sent to the proper Registry), or
  • if is received by 4:30 pm on a business day (if lodged by fax or electronic communication), provided it is accepted by the Registry – otherwise it will be filed on the next business day.

Where the Rules require you to file a document, it means you must file and serve the documents (see below regarding serving a document).

What happens when I have filed my application?

If the document has been correctly lodged and filed (and is required to be stamped or signed), the Court will electronically insert, as the first page of the document, either:

  • a Notice of Filing and Hearing – which sets out the time and date when the matter will first be heard
  • or a Notice of Filing – confirm filing of the document.

See Guidance to the Notice of Filing page for more information. 

How do I get my documents to the other party? (Serving a document)

Once your application has been filed and accepted by the Court, stamped copies will be provided to you, by the Registry staff (either in hard copy or by email, if requested), or if eLodged, electronically via the Court's eLodgment service.

You must then serve a copy of the documents on each respondent. How a document is served will depend on the type of matter. You should check the rules to determine how the applications can be served. You may do this by sending documents in the mail, however, it will be critical that you personally serve the documents on the respondent by:

  • personally delivering the documents to the person; or
  • arranging for someone else to personally deliver the documents to the person.

There are time limits for service in the Rules. Generally, you must serve the documents at least 5 days before the date of the case management hearing, however the Court expects you to serve the relevant material at the earliest possible time after filing.

If you are the respondent or defendant to a proceeding, all documents filed by you must also be served on the applicants within the time limits set by the Rules.

This is to allow you time to discuss the matters that the Court expects you to discuss (the "case management imperatives" - refer to "What do I need to prepare before my first case management hearing?" below).

Do I have to pay any fees?

You may be required to pay fees at certain times during your matter, such as:

  • when you file your application
  • for a mediation
  • when a Judge directs that a case be given a hearing date - you may need to pay a setting down fee which includes the first day hearing fee
  • at the start of each day that your matter is in Court for trial - hearing fee for each day or part day after the first day

A list of fees is available from fees section of the Court's website. Fees can be paid by credit card or EFTPOS.

If you cannot afford this fee, you may be able to ask the Court to exempt you from having to pay it or to defer the time for its payment. More information about how to apply for an exemption ] or deferral of fees is available on the Court's website or from your local Registry.

What is the difference between fees and legal costs?

Fees are different from legal costs. Knowing the difference between fees and costs may affect your decision to bring or continue a matter in the Federal Court of Australia.

In some matters, you may be ordered to provide security for costs before the case is heard. This arises if the Court is satisfied that you may not be able to pay the other party's costs if you lose the case. The Court may order that you deposit funds with the Court or provide security such as a bank guarantee. You cannot get an exemption in relation to security for costs.

Can the Court refuse to accept documents for filing?

The Registry will not accept a document for filing if:

  • it is not substantially complete or comply with these Rules
  • it is not properly signed
  • a Judicial Registrar has refused to accept the document
  • the Court has directed that the document not be accepted
  • the Court has directed that leave is required and leave has not been obtained.

A Judicial Registrar may also refuse to accept a document if they are satisfied that the document is an abuse of the process of the Court, frivolous or vexatious.