ACC Decisions to be Removed from District Court Judges
ACC Decisions to be Removed from the Scrutiny of District Court Judges
Acclaim Otago (Inc)
Dr Denise Powell, spokesperson for Acclaim Otago (Inc) says “There are clearly multiple problems with access to justice for people who are disputing decisions made by ACC. In the documents released this week, the Government has acknowledged issues relating to delays in the current appeals process, but has decided to eliminate access to the District Court and the Appeal Authority under the guise of speeding up the process”.
Acclaim Otago believe the Government is ignoring its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). “It has an obligation to consult closely with injured people in the development and implementation of legislation and policies that affect them [Article 4(3)]. It has an obligation to provide effective access to justice [Article 13]. It has an obligation to provide a voice at the table for injured people and their representatives. That's a fundamental principle under the Convention" says Dr Powell.
Documents released under the Official Information Act this week show that when Cabinet decided to remove access to the District Court for injured people, the Minister for Courts briefed cabinet by saying:
The proposals appear consistent with the rights affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act… (paragraph 84, page 12).
There are no direct gender or disability implications arising from these proposals (paragraph 91, page 13).
“It is disappointing that over the ten month process since September 2013, the Government has been consulting with ACC on these plans, and yet at no time did they inform other key stakeholders (ie injured people) or the Advocates and Representatives Group set up by ACC to provide advice on legislative and systemic operational matters, that this major change was being considered.”
“We have been raising these issues for a long time now,” says a frustrated Dr Powell. “It started in 2010 when Acclaim Otago raised disability issues, including ‘access to justice’ with the Government. We were ignored. We did the same thing in 2013. Again we were ignored”. In February 2014, Acclaim Otago, with support from the New Zealand Law Foundation, presented an interim shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
In April 2014, the United Nations asked the New Zealand Government about access to justice for ACC clients going through the disputes process. Acclaim Otago asked the Government similar questions in May 2014.
“It is only now becoming clear that the key decision makers don’t recognise that removing access to the Court involves the rights of people with disabilities. The Cabinet paper clearly shows that the rights of injured people are not even on the radar”. Acclaim Otago believes the Government needs to stop treating ACC claimants as simply a financial and administrative burden as is identified in these latest documents.
“This is not good enough, and it has to change. Substantial changes such as these that have a significant impact for people who have reason to engage with the ACC appeal process, must involve open and transparent consultation with all stakeholders, including disabled people, as is required under the Convention” concludes Dr Powell.