"Generational Reform" proposed to Civil Litigation in New Zealand
Sweeping changes have been proposed to the way civil litigation is practiced in New Zealand. The proposed changes by the Rules Committee to civil procedure in the High Court, District Court and Disputes Tribunal are intended to improve access to justice by addressing the current financial and information barriers.
Of the changes, some of the most significant proposed are those to the Disputes Tribunal. It is not a formal court and is designed to be flexible, fast, and cost effective. The Disputes Tribunal currently deals with smaller, straightforward claims up to the value of $30,000. Lawyers can help claimants prepare for the Tribunal but cannot actually represent them at the hearing.
The Rules Committee have proposed:
a) Increasing the Tribunal's jurisdiction from $35,000 to between $50,000 and $100,000;
b) Expanding the scope of appeals to the District Court;
c) Renaming the Tribunal to the "Small Claims Court" or "Community Court";
d) Granting the ability to award costs and disbursements; and
e) Providing a more effective and straightforward way for successful claimants to enforce a successful award.
If the proposed changes are implemented, a greater number of claims that are more complex and financially significant will be within the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal. In these circumstances, it will be of added importance that you are prepared and able to fully present your case and/or to oppose the other party's case, under a procedure that is fair and transparent.
The District Court currently deals with claims up to $350,000. A trial in the District Court can be a "short trial", a "simplified trial" or a "full trial". This is allocated by the Judge at the first case management conference based on the complexity of the claim and the amount at stake.
The Rules Committee proposes to keep the current trial process, but to introduce new protocols a plaintiff must follow before a claim can be commenced. This may involve requirements on plaintiffs to provide debtors with a warning that proceedings are to be issued, urging them to obtain either representation or advice from a Community Law Centre or similar, or perhaps to attempt to agree a payment plan with the creditor prior to seeking judgment through the courts.
If the proposed changes are implemented, creditors will have to take further and more involved steps to recover a debt. In these circumstances, it will be of added importance that you are fully advised about your options and obligations as a creditor or debtor when judgment is sought through the courts.
If you are a creditor and would like some advice regarding your options, please enquire here.
The High Court has jurisdiction to deal with all claims above the jurisdiction of the District Court (ie. claims above $350,000). The Rules Committee have proposed the High Court's procedures be streamlined in the following ways:
a) Replacing discovery (which is the current process where parties to litigation exchange all the relevant documents prior to the trial taking place) with an expanded form of initial disclosure;
b) Initial issues conferences are to be held once proceedings are commenced where the parties explain their case and the evidence in support. The intention is to explore avenues for resolution earlier, including directions for resolution by alternative dispute resolution (ie. mediation, arbitration or negotiation) or judicial settlement conferences (ie. mediation between the parties facilitated by a judge);
c) Interlocutory steps would be dealt with on the papers instead of the need for full hearings; and
d) At trial, witnesses would give evidence by affidavit, with oral evidence given only when there is a factual dispute.
We can help
Our litigation team has experience advising on claims at all levels of the court system. If you need advice about making a claim, please do not hesitate to contact us here.