Parliament has given third readings to the Courts Matters Bill and the Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill.
With some exceptions most of the provisions come into force on the day after the bills receive the Royal assent. Both bills were omnibus bills and together introduce a package of amendments designed to make courts and tribunals function more efficiently.
The Courts Matters Bill amends 14 Acts. It aims to improve users’ experience by making courts and tribunals safer and more secure, through amendments to the Courts Security Act 1999.
It also aims to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and timeliness of criminal processes (through changes to the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 and the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act 2003), fines enforcement (by amending the Summary Proceedings Act 1957), and the courts generally (through amendments to 11 other Acts).
The Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill amends the powers and procedures of tribunals established under 20 Acts.
It aims to improve users’ experience of tribunals by making processes easier for the public to understand and reducing the length of time it takes to hear and resolve matters. This would be achieved by providing similar tribunals administered by the Ministry of Justice with a standard set of powers and procedures to improve productivity and administrative efficiency. It would also enable some tribunals to provide better consumer protections and redress through a simpler, quicker, and cheaper alternative to a court case.
The legislation also amends three further Acts to disestablish the defunct Birdlings Flat Land Titles Commissioner. The Commissioner has completed this work. It would also disestablish the rarely used Health Boards of Appeal and the Maritime Appeal Authority. The District Court will hear any future cases.
An amendment allows the Legal Complaints Review Officer to strike out applications for review if certain conditions are met, and also to determine applications for review on the papers in the absence of a party to the proceedings. This has been seen as one of the reasons for a large backlog or cases before the LCRO.
Other changes enable the appointment of deputy chairpersons to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and make procedural changes that will help to reduce the case backlog that has developed in recent years.
Associate Justice Minister Aupito William Sio says the new legislation will allow courts and tribunals to make better use of 21st century technology and reduce the time it takes to hear and resolve matters,
He says some of the important changes made are:
- enabling the appointment of deputy chairpersons to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and making procedural changes that will help to reduce the case backlog that has developed in recent years;
- allowing the Legal Complaints Review Officer to dismiss unmeritorious claims and to decide more matters on the papers to help reduce the case backlog;
- modernising and aligning the powers and procedures of 21 tribunals the Ministry of Justice supports, making it easier for people to resolve issues and to move on with their lives;
- extending the powers of Court Security Officers to deny entry to, and to remove and detain disruptive individuals in court and tribunal buildings;
- making it easier for people who can’t afford to pay their fines to set up arrangements to pay in affordable instalments;
- changing criminal and family court procedures to improve effectiveness and timeliness
- allowing Police on the side of the road to issue Driver License Stop Orders;
- increasing the financial threshold for the Disputes Tribunal from $15,000 to $30,000 so more disputes can be resolved in a less expensive, simple and quick manner;
- giving the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal the power to award compensation of up to $100,000 for financial losses.