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Call For Disputes Tribunal Fees To Be Scrapped

Citizens Advice Bureau Calls For Disputes Tribunal Fees To Be Scrapped

People will miss out on justice if the Government increases courts fees, the New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) warned today. CAB has advised the Government to put society's access to justice ahead of any new scheme of cost recovery for the Courts, and has specifically called for the abolition of Disputes Tribunal fees.

In a submission to the Courts' Department CAB has told the Government that court fees create a barrier to society's access to justice.

"In our experience, people are not getting justice because they cannot afford it. Instead of finding ways to recover Court costs by increasing fees the Government should be scrapping Disputes Tribunal fees and introducing ways of ensuring no one in society misses out on using the Courts when they need to. CAB is asking the Government to abolish the Disputes Tribunal fees to make sure that everyone is able to get their smaller scale civil disputes heard.

"The Government discovered for themselves in a very dramatic way that the level of fees has a direct impact on determining access to the courts. When the Disputes Tribunal fees were put up from $10 to $30 for claims under $1000, the number of cases taken to the Tribunal decreased by over 10% in the first six months. Many people, specifically those on low incomes, could not afford to take their cases to the Tribunal and these people were missing out on getting justice," says New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux chief executive, Mr Nick Toonen.

The Government is considering ways of recovering costs in the Courts system, but the CAB says this could put barriers in the way of people getting justice in civil disputes.

"We acknowledge that there are some areas where fees could be charged without impacting on peoples' access to justice, but there are other vital areas in the courts' system where all barriers to individuals getting justice must be removed.

"The Disputes Tribunal is one of these areas. It was set up to provide a cheap and effective resolution service for people with disputes under $7,500, without the need for lawyers to get involved.

"In our experience, many people with very legitimate cases, such as being ripped off by a tradesperson or retailer, have not been able to get things put right because they cannot afford to go to court. For example, if a person has saved to buy a $300 vacuum cleaner that breaks down, and the retailer won't replace or repair it, the purchaser will then have to spend 10% of the cost of the vacuum cleaner to have their case heard in the Disputes Tribunal. If they cannot afford that fee, then the retailer gets away with it, and will probably continue to ignore their obligations to future customers", says Mr Toonen.

/end

For more information contact: Nick Toonen, Chief Executive Officer, phone (04) 382 8759, (021) 135 6085

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux provides a free national service to all individuals of impartial and confidential information, advice and support, and makes responsible use of the experience so gained.

There are 91 Citizens Advice Bureaux throughout the country, handling over half a million enquiries each year. In these bureaux over 2,700 trained volunteers take time to listen, offer options of relevant services and information, and, as necessary, work with clients to identify an effective course of action.

Over the past 2 years CAB dealt with: * 8,000 enquiries about the courts and justice system (excluding the Disputes Tribunal) * 7,000 enquiries about the Disputes Tribunal (this does not include enquiries about the Maori Land Court, Waitangi Tribunal or Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal) * 32,000 enquiries about breakdown of relationships, including custody and access, matrimonial property, separation and dissolution of marriage issues; many of these involving the Family Court.

In addition to these: * Over 10 percent of our annual enquiries (which totalled 580,000 in 1999-2000) are consumer related and for a good proportion of these the Disputes Tribunal is an important avenue of redress. * Over the past 2 years bureaux provided free legal advice or referrals to over 30,000 clients, and a good proportion of these will have led to the client using various tribunals to resolve their dispute.

Through the Department for Courts, the Government is consulting on a discussion document on equitable fees in civil courts.

For a copy of the New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux submission on this discussion document please contact Ross Bell, Social Policy & Information Officer, phone (04) 382 8759, (025) 294 9722, PO Box 9777, Wellington.


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