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Further improvements to tribunals announced

Hon Chester Borrows
Minister for Courts

24 June 2014 Media Statement
Further improvements to tribunals announced

Legislative changes aimed at further improving courts and tribunals have been unveiled by Courts Minister Chester Borrows today, as a part of the Government’s ongoing modernisation of the justice system.

The proposals aim to update a wide range of older legislation that has failed to keep pace with modern practice.

“There are aspects of the courts and tribunal system that fall short of public needs and expectations. This package of reforms aims to address some of these issues, and will make the system easier to understand and more transparent,” Mr Borrows says.

“The changes will help ensure our tribunals continue to be the first option for timely, specialist decision-making and dispute resolution outside the court system.”

One of the main changes within the Courts and Tribunals Enhanced Services Legislation Bill is the establishment of a new ACC Appeal Tribunal which replaces two existing appeals bodies.

“It doesn’t make sense to have the same types of appeals heard by two separate bodies. By combining them into one we are able to increase access to justice and make better use of judicial resources,” Mr Borrows says.

“This doesn’t change the law that will be applied in ACC appeals. It doesn’t restrict appeal rights or downgrade the quality of the decision making claimants will receive. What it does do is make the process simpler, easier and faster for those who have to go through it.

“It’s taking far too long for ACC cases to be dealt with by the District Court registry, cases before it currently averaging 695 days old. No one wins with delays like this.

“The improved processes, including dedicated tribunal members and statutory timeframes, should significantly reduce the time it takes to deal with cases. The end result we are aiming for is to be able to complete an ACC appeal in around 250 days.”

In addition to the changes to ACC tribunals, the legislation governing the courts and a further 21 tribunals will be amended to provide users with quicker decision-making, and processes which are fairer and clearer. Changes include:
• the requirement for tribunals to publish information on how and when court users can get information about the progress of their case
• the requirement for tribunals to publish decisions online, unless there is good reason not to do so
• new processes to improve the collection of court fines

“These changes, combined with other legislative changes such as the Judicature Modernisation Bill, speed up and modernise the justice system, and will help to deliver the timely justice services that New Zealanders want and deserve,” Mr Borrows says.

The Bill is expected to be introduced later this year.

ENDS


Courts and Tribunals Enhanced Services Legislation Bill

Questions and Answers

What does the Courts and Tribunals Enhanced Services Legislation Bill (CATES) cover?

The changes are aimed at further improving the courts and tribunals by updating a wide range of older legislation that hasn’t kept pace with modern ways of working.

The Bill impacts 26 tribunals as well as some court processes.

The main change in the Bill is the establishment of a new ACC Appeal Tribunal, which will replace two existing appeals bodies.

What do the two ACC appeal bodies do?

Two different bodies currently consider the same type of accident compensation appeals but under quite different, sometimes inconsistent, legislative processes.

• The Accident Compensation Appeals District Court Registry hears claims made under the Accident Compensation Act 2001. These are heard by a District Court Judge.

• The Accident Compensation Appeal Authority hears appeals under the repealed Accident Compensation Acts 1972 and 1982. These are heard by a one member authority.

In future, all appeals will be heard by one member of the new Tribunal. Members will be barristers or solicitors of the High Court with at least seven years practice. The new tribunal will have the features and powers of a modern, best practice tribunal.

Why are the two ACC appeal bodies being replaced?

The number of appeals received each year by both bodies exceeds the number being resolved in that year. The age of cases is high and rising.

The average age of ACC appeals currently before the District Court registry is 695 days. Changes being made are intended to reduce the time it takes to finish cases to around 250 days.

How will the new ACC tribunal reduce the time it takes to get an ACC appeal decided by so much?

The tribunal will have new powers that the existing two appeal bodies do not have, such as:

• the inclusion of statutory timeframes, which apply both for the appellant and ACC, for lodging applications and submissions – to help improve case throughput;

• the power to regulate procedures and issue practice notes;

• the power to make and enforce suppression orders;

• the ability to strike-out cases, where appropriate subject to interests of justice considerations.

In addition, a number of other changes are being made to make the new tribunal run faster including.

• being led by a full time Chair with clear leadership responsibilities

• comprising of 8-10 part time tribunal members, based around the country. This replaces the need to use, and reliance on the availability of, District Court judges.

• having cases heard by one tribunal member.

• matters being decided based on the papers (that is based solely on the written material provided instead of a hearing being held), where appropriate.

Additional resource will be applied in the transition to address the backlog of cases and to enable the new tribunal to achieve target timeframe of 250 days for case completion.

Who are the Tribunal members?

Tribunal members will be someone who is a barrister or solicitor of the High Court with seven plus years’ experience. They may also have specific technical knowledge of accident compensation matters.

What other tribunals will be affected by these legislative changes?

Legislative changes will be made to the Acts governing the following 21 tribunals:

• Copyright Tribunal

• Customs Appeal Authority

• Disputes Tribunal

• Human Rights Review Tribunal

• Immigration Advisers Complaints Disciplinary Tribunal

• Immigration and Protection Tribunal

• Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal

• Legal Aid Tribunal

• Legal Complaints Review Officer

• Second-hand Dealers and Pawnbrokers Licensing Authority

• Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal

• Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority

• Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal

• Review Authority (Legal Aid)

• Social Security Appeal Authority

• Student Allowance Appeal Authority

• Taxation Review Authority

• Tenancy Tribunal

• Victims Special Claims Tribunal

• Weathertight Homes Tribunal.

In addition, three tribunals - - the Birdlings Flat Land Titles Commissioner, Health Act Boards of Appeal and Maritime Appeal Authority – are being disestablished. These have no active cases.

What changes are being made to these tribunals’ legislation?

The powers and procedures of these tribunals are being standardised. For example, every tribunal will be able to issue practice notes, make suppression orders to protect sensitive information and strike out frivolous and vexatious applications.

What changes are being made to improve the collection of court fines?

The Bill extends the options for paying fines by time payments. These arrangements can be a voluntary agreement or by court order to deduct fines from someone’s wages or benefit.

The Ministry of Justice will develop electronic rules that will enable:

• offers to voluntarily pay fines in instalments to be entered into the fines.govt.nz website and automatically considered and where appropriate approved;

• new fines to be automatically added to existing time payment arrangements where appropriate;

• mandatory deductions from wages or benefits based on set criteria to be automatically imposed to pay overdue fines.

It is expected that these changes will speed up the collection of fines and free up court time to focus on those customers who require more direct intervention to pay.

Where can I find more information about these legislative changes?

The Cabinet paper, Courts and Tribunals Enhancements, will soon be available on the Ministry of Justice website.

When will the public be able to comment on these changes?

The Bill is expected to be introduced later this year. After the first reading the public will be able to make submissions to the Parliamentary Select Committee that will consider the Bill.

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