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Govt's approach to tribunal reform released

Hon Rick Barker
Minister for Courts

14 July 2008

Government’s preferred approach to tribunal reform released

Courts Minister Rick Barker today launched a consultation document aimed at improving New Zealanders satisfaction with tribunal services.

Tribunals in New Zealand: the Government’s Preferred Approach to Reform outlines the government’s preferred approach for reforming tribunals, and seeks feedback on the proposals by August 29, 2008.

“Tribunals are a vital part of our justice system. They generally provide relatively cheap and quick ways to resolve certain types of disputes. 52,000 cases were filed last year in our tribunals, showing how important they are to New Zealanders,” Mr Barker said.

“There are many positive aspects to tribunals. The people that adjudicate in them and work in them are by and large capable and committed, and users surveyed said the tribunals were the most appropriate way to settle their dispute. However, there are some issues that have developed over many decades, as tribunals have been established on an ad-hoc basis to provide a means for resolving a certain type of dispute.

“There is no overall guidance or leadership of tribunals, there is duplication of resource, and inconsistencies in how they do their work, and what kind of powers they have. Too often users don’t get the information they need to let them participate effectively in hearings.”

Minister Barker said given the range of issues identified, the government was proposing different types of reform.

“The preferred approach keeps what is good about tribunals, and works to fix systemic issues and provide better support to users and tribunal members. I would like to commend the staff at the Ministry of Justice and the Law Commission and the members of the reference group for their efforts in delivering the proposal thus far”

The consultation document proposes a new legislative framework to bring more consistency and introduce basic minimum standards.

“A large group of tribunals would be brought together in one structure to enable better support and use of resources, and enhance coherence and leadership across tribunals. Having one unified tribunal structure means we can put in place helpful services like a freephone number and website, and provide the public with better information from the outset.

"The proposed tribunal changes are just one part of a wider package of reform. We are also restoring infrastructure, overhauling the legislation, instituting a process for continuous improvement, and constructively working with justice sector partners to enhance the access to justice and the justice experience for New Zealanders."

Under the government’s preferred approach to tribunal reform, comprehensive guidelines would be developed to ensure that new tribunals are not established in an ad hoc way and that the system remains strong and cohesive into the future.

“I want to see that tribunals encapsulate the hallmarks of courts, that they are independent and focussed on making sound, robust and fair decisions for New Zealanders,” Mr Barker said.

ENDS

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