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Court-ordered settlement conferences

Hon Simon Power
Minister of Justice
Hon Georgina te Heuheu
Minister for Courts

3 July 2009
Media Statement

Court-ordered settlement conferences

The High Court in Auckland is to introduce a pilot scheme that will see private mediators undertake court-ordered mediation in some civil disputes, Justice Minister Simon Power and Courts Minister Georgina te Heuheu announced today.

The pilot will commence in November this year, and will see the equivalent of 50 day-long mediations carried out.

Currently, mediation is carried out by Associate Judges, and though there has been a high success rate with this, Associate Judges are now spending large amounts of time mediating, rather than on cases that require judicial attention.

"Reducing the number of full hearings and freeing up judicial time for other matters should lead to faster resolution of disputes, which will be cheaper for the parties and the court," Mr Power says.

"Helping reduce delays in the justice system and backlogs in the court will also help victims gain closure."

A panel of between 12 and 15 mediators will be established. They will be experienced legal practitioners who are also qualified and experienced in mediation.

"Mediation is often the best way to deal with civil disputes, but parties can be reluctant to seek mediation themselves," Mrs te Heuheu says.

A High Court Judge or Associate Judge will decide if a dispute should be referred for mediation by a private mediator. The agreement of the parties will be required.

A review of the scheme will take place after the pilot, and if successful may be extended to other parts of the country. If this is the case it could lead to significant savings in time and allow our justice system to run more efficiently.

Court-ordered settlement conferences: Background

What do Associate Judges do?
The Associate Judges’ jurisdiction covers a number of civil actions in the High Court, namely summary judgment matters, bankruptcy, insolvency, company liquidations and a range of general proceedings.

Who will select the panel of mediators?
Mediators will be selected by the Chief Judge of the High Court. Details relating to the establishment of the panel are yet to be finalised.

What will the selection process entail?
Details relating to the establishment of the panel are yet to be finalised.

Will the mediators have to have legal qualifications?
Yes, they will have legal qualifications and current practising certificates.

Will the mediators have to have qualifications in alternative dispute resolution?
It is expected that the members of the panel will either have a qualification in alternative dispute resolution or will have had experience in conducting mediations.

Will the mediators be able to issue judgments?
No. The mediators will have no judicial status, powers or immunities.

What will happen when a mediation has concluded?
The details of the processes to be followed following a mediation are being worked through with the judiciary. Any court orders that must be made or judgments that must be issued at the conclusion of a successful mediation will be effected by the Associate Judge or High Court Judge concerned.

Why are only 50 day-long mediations planned?
The Ministry of Justice has set aside funding for the pilot which will enable the equivalent of 50 day-long mediations to be carried out. The actual number of mediations will depend on the length of each mediation, but it is expected a number will be shorter than a full-day, allowing for the total to be over 50. The intention of the pilot is to establish if using private mediators results in increased throughput and/or reduced waiting times.

How much will the proposal cost?
The Ministry of Justice has set aside $150,000 to run the pilot.

How much will the proposal save?
Assessing the savings is one of the purposes of holding a pilot.

How many Associate Judges are there?
There are eight Associate Judges, five of whom are based at the Auckland High Court. There is provision in the Judicial Matters Bill, which has just been reported back from the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, to raise the legislative cap on the number that can be appointed to nine.


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