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Disputes Tribunal needs overhaul

October 20, 2006

Disputes Tribunal needs overhaul

The Disputes Tribunal is not decisive, consistent and nor does it deliver "justice", according to Wal Britton, Managing Director of Accounts Enforcement limited, a debt collection service based in Auckland.

Mr Britton said he is directed by the District Court to transfer claims to the Tribunal regularly.

He describes it as a "joke and a complete waste of time in terms of money, effort, resources and the results it delivers".

The Disputes Tribunal currently hears claims up to $7,500 and if both parties agree, up to $12,000.

Mr Britton said that Referees, who decide/hear the cases, don't have enough understanding and often pay little regard to the Law.

He said he very recently produced a signed contract supporting a claim which was ignored by the appointed Referee.

"Had this claim been heard in the District Court, it would have been an open and shut case. The signed contract between the parties would have ruled the day. But in the Disputes Tribunal, you tend to get a touchy, feely situation where the arbitrator tries to encourage both parties to come to a compromise/settlement in the first instance. The reason they are there in the first place is because they couldn't come to an agreement."

Mr Britton said the hearings also take too long. Most hearings have a two hour period allotted which, in his opinion, is far too long given the sums often involved. Too much time is wasted by Referees allowing respondent's to "waffle" instead of "cutting to the chase".

Why can't the Disputes Tribunal Referees adopt a "Judge Judy" style and form of Justice. "Put up the facts or shut up" asks Mr Britton.

He has also noticed that some adjudicators do observe the law in relation to contracts and others don't. This, he said, is a serious inconsistency.

"This is why the system is clogged up. There needs to be a more efficient time limit set on cases. A maximum of one hour is plenty of time for a fair hearing of both parties and a ruling. "The tribunal sees itself as some kind of restorer of relationships. It should forget all about trying to patch up differences; by the time the parties reach the stage of a hearing, you can be pretty sure they have no further use for each other".

"Referees want to be friends with all parties rather than get the facts and facilitate a decision in an efficient amount of time.

""Some unscrupulous debtors are actually starting to use this to cut themselves discounted deals,"" said Mr Britton.

Mr Britton said the problem is not entirely the fault of the Referees.

"They are required to ask the two parties to come to agreement first. This is unnecessary and a waste of time. When people go to Court they want the Court to rule. Decision making needs to be robust, definitive and decisive. It's all too politically correct and irrelevant".

"It seems to me that a Small Claims Court, that was set up in terms of process and pays particular regard to the Law and intent on delivering justice would be a far better option than a Disputes Tribunal operating the way it does".


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