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Feedback sought on Rules Committee civil justice access discussion document

19 March 2020

The Rules Committee is seeking feedback on its discussion document Improving Access to Civil Justice - Initial Consultation by 1 May 2020.

The committee is seeking comment from members of the legal profession and other court users on potential areas of reform to the rules governing civil trial procedures.

The purpose of these potential reforms is to improve access to justice by reducing the costs associated with bringing a civil matter to court.

The committee says there is concern that there is an increasingly unmet need for civil justice in New Zealand. A growing number of unrepresented litigants are coming before the Courts, including many litigants who cannot afford legal representation. For example, it is often not cost‑effective to bring a claim worth less than $100,000 in the District Court.

It says these trends run counter not only to the fundamental right of all to access the courts, but also to the strategic goals of the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General.

The committee's proposals

The Rules Committee says it wants to address the emerging trends by embarking on a wide-reaching review of the High Court Rules and District Court Rules. The goal of this review, in line with the overall goal of the committee, would be to improve access to justice in New Zealand by reducing how much it costs to bring a civil matter to court.

"The committee wants to better enable judges, and encourage lawyers, to honour their responsibility to ensure that the costs of each case are as low as can be while ensuring that justice is done.

"Every civil case should be heard in a way that keeps the costs of coming to court proportionate to the nature and value of the issues in dispute. Since the costs of bringing some cases currently outweigh their ability to provide potential remedies, the ways in which cases are heard may need to change. To support a change to the ‘presumptive’ model of civil procedure that applies in New Zealand, there may need to be a wider change in culture to provide better access to justice. In some cases, this would involve a very significant change in how judges and lawyers manage cases.

"This would mean that adopting simpler procedures for administering and hearing civil cases may be a better option than keeping the status quo. For example, the parties in a case might need to demonstrate why justice would require a more time-consuming and expensive procedure than alternative procedures available to them."

Call for submissions

The committee says it is seeking input at an early stage of the reform process, from members of the legal profession, government agencies, the business community, and not for profit and charitable organisations. It says this will allow it to produce more specific proposals for later consultation.

Not having decided its preferred options, the committee has produced its discussion document to identify several potential options. These fall under four broad headings and are discussed fully in the paper:

  • Short-form trial procedures;
  • Inquisitorial-type processes;
  • Summary judgment triage procedure; and
  • Streamlining pretrial and trial processes.

The whole process is summarised in the Rules Committee's web pages. Submissions should be sent to Sebastian Hartley, Clerk to the Rules Committee, at either PO Box 60, Auckland, or rulescommittee@justice.govt.nz.

Last updated on the 19th March 2020