The vision unveiled fifty years ago by the Woodhouse Report is something to celebrate, but the accident compensation system which eventuated presents some very real access to justice issues, the New Zealand Law Society says.
On 13 December 1967 the Royal Commission on “Compensation for Personal Injury in New Zealand” reported its findings to the then Governor-General Sir Arthur Porritt.
The report became known as the Woodhouse Report after the Commission chair Sir Owen Woodhouse. Its recommendations changed the emphasis from finding fault to looking at the needs of the accident victim.
“The report set out five guiding principles, which it said should be the role of any modern system of compensation for injured persons,” Law Society Accident Compensation Committee convenor Don Rennie says.
“These were: Community responsibility, comprehensive entitlements, complete rehabilitation, real compensation, and administrative efficiency.”
“It must be said that the ACC legislation – first enacted in 1972 and amended over the years - has never reflected these principles in full. And in the heart of the ACC system there are some major problems around access to justice.
“While we acknowledge the ground-breaking nature of the Woodhouse Report, we must also point to the problems experienced today by some of the people who want to contest the rulings and decisions made on their entitlements to compensation.”
Mr Rennie says long waiting times for a hearing, a problematic review process and difficulties with legal aid are very real problems which are still unresolved.
“There is also a marked inequality in arms between the Accident Compensation Corporation and the people who try to challenge its decisions. The Corporation is legally represented in nearly every case, while many of the claimants are self-represented or have problems in obtaining legal aid.
“The Law Society’s Accident Compensation Committee has been an active participant in ACC law reform since the inception of the statutory scheme. We are practitioners who specialise in ACC law. One of our guiding lights has been the five principles set out in 1967 by the Woodhouse Report. We will continue to speak out in support of those and to try to ensure that operations or policy do not undermine New Zealand’s unique social contract relating to personal injury.”