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Making The Courts Work Better For People

Monday, 16 December 2002


Wide-ranging changes to the ways in which our court system operates are floated in an options paper released today by the Law Commission.

The options paper Seeking Solutions – Options for change to the New Zealand Court System is the second part of a three-stage review of the court system. It discusses the day-to-day reality for people using the courts in the context of national and international issues and trends in court reform.

Suggestions it contains for making the courts more accessible to all include:
1. more support and assistance to people who appear in court, especially those without lawyers appointment times for court appearances
2. increased use of registrars so more can be done outside the courtroom and throughout the day
3. introduce an independent state prosecution service
4. make mediation compulsory for all cases going to court or alternatively use sanctions such as cost orders to encourage parties to attempt mediation before going to court
5. wholesale reform of civil procedure with redrafted court rules
6. increased specialisation for hearing commercial cases
7. widen the jurisdiction of the Maori Land Court
8. make the processes and administration of tribunals more independent and consistent.

Other ideas include making legal information more easily available and simplifying language. Possible changes to the way cases are managed include introduction of a new court below the District Court and changes to the appeal structure below the proposed new Supreme Court.

Law Commission President Justice Bruce Robertson says the options range over an array of issues: “Some will be attractive to some sectors but quite unacceptable to others. None are concluded views. We are raising possible changes which might – while the fundamental core of our system is preserved or enhanced – improve the operation of the courts and make them more accessible to the entire community and not merely parts of it.

“What we really want now is to hear from as wide a spectrum of New Zealanders as possible as to what they think about these suggested improvements to the system.”

Justice Robertson said the first discussion paper Striking the Balance, released earlier this year, canvassed people’s views on the court system – and had received more submissions than any other Law Commission document in the past five years.

Seeking Solutions focuses on how things might be improved. It looks particularly at the parts of the system that most people use – the “high volume” criminal and civil areas.

He says a positive development which is already in train in response to Striking the Balance has been the Department for Courts working with the commission to pilot a list court process in the Wellington District Court next year.

“We hope this second discussion document returns the same high quantity, high quality response that we got to Striking the Balance,” says Justice Robertson. “The more people let us know their preferences among the raft of possible changes this document discusses, the closer we will get to a court system that serves our society well.”

“If we are to turn the rhetoric of universally available equal justice into reality, we have to look for better ways in many parts of the current system,” says Law Commission President, Justice Bruce Robertson.
The third stage of the review will be recommendations for reform from the Law Commission to the Government in the second half of 2003.

Seeking Solutions is being widely distributed with submissions invited by Easter 2003.

For further information contact:

For a copy, call Colleen Gurney, Assistant Publications Officer 04–473 3453, com@lawcom.govt.nz

Level 10, 89 The Terrace, PO Box 2590, Wellington

This media release and a copy of the publication will be available from our website at:


on Monday, 16 December 2002.


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