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COVID-19 Reaction, Increased Regulatory Action And Legislative Change Ahead

Continued responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, greater regulatory action and adjustments to legislation will all shape the litigation landscape in the year ahead. These are among the predictions made by MinterEllisonRuddWatts’ leading dispute resolution team in its Litigation Forecast 2021.

Partner and co-leader of the national law firm’s Dispute Resolution team, Andrew Horne says that there are more challenges to come across New Zealand’s litigation landscape.

"Class actions, climate change and increasing pressure on directors were emerging big litigation risks before COVID-19 came along. While these issues demand continued attention, COVID-19 has forced other issues to the top of the agenda," says Andrew Horne.

"For example, many companies and directors are experiencing ‘shock’ D&O premium increases that in some instances have been many times multiples of their previous year’s premiums.

"New Zealand is experiencing better than expected economic conditions, thanks mainly to Government stimuli, low interest rates and regulator responses. However, there is a cautious approach and people are wondering about a potential ‘bubble effect’ for good reason."

Following immediate responses by regulators as the country entered the first COVID-19 lockdown, regulators are continuing with both education and enforcement activity says Partner Jane Standage.

"Regulators have sent clear signals that their expectations are high, and that ‘bedding in’ periods are now over in a number of key areas, particularly so for governance, culture and conduct, and issues that could compromise New Zealand’s reputation as one of the world’s best places to do business," says Jane Standage.

Predictions for 2021

the Financial Markets Authority continuing to focus on governance and culture while taking an active enforcement role around anti-money laundering breaches, where regulatory tolerance for non-compliance is decreasing;

the progression of WorkSafe’s prosecution of three directors of a person conducting a business or undertaking associated with the ownership of Whakaari/White Island bringing a renewed focus on officer compliance with due diligence duty;

the Privacy Commissioner working with other regulators to ensure that agencies meet their privacy obligations and are both cyber-secure and resilient;

the Commerce Commission being particularly active, including around environmental claims, pricing representations and enforcing limits on the fees and interest that can be charged on high-cost consumer credit contracts. It will also continue to increase awareness of cartel conduct ahead of criminal sanctions from April this year; and

regulators advancing investigations and enforcement into corporate misconduct.

Read MinterEllisonRuddWatts' Litigation Forecast 2021.

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