The New Zealand Law Society has called on its members to respond to the Rules Committee’s ongoing consultation into reform in the civil dispute resolution system. The consultation is in response to new proposals put forward following concerns raised about an initial consultation paper in 2020. With concerned bodies including the Law Society.
Responders shared the Committee’s concern at what the Law Society termed in its submission the “justice gap” that has been “slow-burning” for at least a generation. A number of causes for that ever-widening gap were identified by submitters. One of these, particularly relevant to the Committee’s remit, is the high cost of lawyers and the significant costs associated with complying with procedural requirements.
The Committee’s draft proposals look to combat both of these barriers to civil justice, improving access to justice and public welfare. Overall, the proposals are aimed at creating a range of fora for the resolution of civil disputes. With the goal of reducing the expense associated with complying with the procedural requirements, and bringing them into line with the value of the dispute being heard.
Within each forum, the Committee’s goal is for the particular procedures adopted in each individual case to match the importance to the parties of that dispute, in both theory and practice. The more valuable and important the dispute, the more onerous the procedures that will apply, so as to avoid error and ensure “justice” is done. The Committee’s detailed proposals seeking to give effect to this vision are detailed in the consultation paper.
An overview of the proposals includes:
- Recommending that the government enact legislation increasing the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal and enhancing the Tribunal’s role in the civil justice system, positioning it as New Zealand’s primary civil trial court for disputes of up to at-least $50,000 in value.
- Reforming the District Court to improve its structural ability to deal with civil claims, including by appointing part-time Judges, so as to allow that Court to make effective use of the existing potential for flexibility and tailored procedure found within its current rules.
- Streamlining the presumptive model of procedure in the High Court. The existing extensive procedural rules will only apply to more complex cases, which truly warrant them. In other cases the new, less elaborate, approach will apply. This will include replacing discovery with disclosure obligations, an early issues conference featuring substantive engagement by Judges, interlocutories dealt with on the papers, and a streamlined trial process placing much greater weight on the documentary record. Parties will have to justify the need for adopting more onerous obligations in a given case.