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Disputes Tribunal Fees “Barrier To Justice”

The New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has welcomed the drop in Disputes Tribunal fees announced by the government today, but says that until the fees are removed completely, they will continue to act as a barrier for people on low incomes seeking justice.

Nick Toonen, the Association’s Chief Executive Officer, is pleased the government is moving in the right direction.

“We congratulate the Minister for Courts on carrying out a review of the civil court fee structure and for listening to Citizens Advice Bureau and other community organisations about the fact that any fee for the Disputes Tribunal limits access to justice.

“When the fees were increased in 1998, the Department for Courts reported a 10 percent decrease in use of the Tribunal during the first six months, which is exactly what we had anticipated. This is also consistent with our experience of a drop-off in the number of clients wanting to use the Disputes Tribunal. Many of our clients don’t have the money required to take a case to the Disputes Tribunal.

“While we are pleased to see that the cost of lodging a claim for amounts over $1,000 has been reduced, the fact remains that for claims under $1,000 the fee has not changed. We originally called for the fees to be abolished, so the fact that they haven’t addressed this lower end fee is of great concern to us.

“Many of the people who come to Citizens Advice Bureau are on low incomes and have great difficulty in paying this fee. This demonstrates that people on low incomes do not have the same access to justice as those on higher incomes. The Disputes Tribunal was set up to provide an accessible and effective resolution for people with smaller scale civil disputes without the need to involve lawyers, and we believe its accessibility is compromised by the fees.

“We’ll continue to monitor the impact of fees on our clients and advocate for the removal of the Disputes Tribunal fees.”

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