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Access To Justice


17 January 2008

Access To Justice

Consumer NZ said today it was concerned at the growing number of people who were unaware of what to do, or where to turn, if their rights were violated.

Comments made earlier today by the Citizens Advice Bureau have highlighted the rising problem of accessing justice. The Law Commission has described the system of disputes tribunals as incoherent and inconsistent.

Consumer NZ CEO Sue Chetwin said the most common advice sought from her organisation was what to do when people felt they had been ripped off.

“The legal advice service we offer to members is inundated with calls from people who have had bad experiences and are trying to see them put right. This is often about dodgy products, services and traders, but we’re noticing more and more people seeking advice in other areas – tenancy disputes, animal complaints, privacy rights, and even how to perform other legal duties like establishing power of attorney or writing a will,” she said.

Consumer’s website contains free information on accessing justice for most consumer-related problems. The website’s Legal Rights section walks people through the process of how to deal with different legal and complaint situations - what to do, where to go, how to lay complaints that work, and gives case examples.

Ms Chetwin says the lack of information available on legal matters is the biggest barrier to achieving justice.

“When it comes to disputes and complaints, it’s amazing how many people assume there’s no place they can lay a complaint or seek redress. The reality is there are organisations that will investigate or adjudicate disputes in almost every field.”

These include advertising, banking, consumer issues, employment, finance, health, housing, insurance, tenancy, real estate and many more.

“The shame is that these organisations are poorly advertised and many people have no idea they exist. That’s why we give as much good information as possible.

“We’ve been involved in pushing for the rights of consumers through making public submissions and being consulted or involved in the creation of many of these tribunals.

“But that work isn’t finished. There are still many aspects of tribunals, ombudsmen and industry watchdogs that are a turn-off to people seeking their rights. For example, the maximum financial limits of some tribunals are completely unrealistic, while others take forever to investigate or hold a hearing.

“Another problem we’re seeing is that people often have to pay a non-refundable fee to get a hearing. It doesn’t seem right to us that tribunals and courts set up to protect people should demand payment – especially when that person has done nothing wrong. These problems are often not the fault of the tribunals themselves, but rather the Ministry of Justice and the government that sets the rules.”

“We’re working hard with industry and government groups to try and correct some of these issues. It’s all about fairness and justice, ensuring that good people aren’t ripped off.”


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