Associate Justice Minister Mark Mitchell has introduced two omnibus bills to Parliament which have the objective of improving the work and processes of courts and tribunals.
The Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill aims to provide 21 tribunals administered by the Ministry of Justice with a standard set of powers and procedures with the objective of improving productivity and administrative efficiency.
New standard provisions will govern the striking out of meritless applications, the summoning of witnesses, the awarding of costs when a person has obstructed or unreasonably delayed proceedings, contempt, and the use of audiovisual facilities in appropriate cases.
The monetary threshold for the Disputes Tribunal will be increased from $15,000 (or $20,000, if all parties agree) to $30,000. The Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal will be able to award monetary compensatino of up to $100,000 for financial losses arising from a real estate agent's unsatisfactory conduct, and the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Licensing Authority will be able to discipline licensees and certificate holders for unsatisfactory conduct as well as for misconduct.
The Birdlings Flat Land Titles Act 1993 will be repealed, removing a defunct tribunal, and the Boards of Appeal established under the Health Act 1956 and the Maritime Appeal Authority established under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 will be disestablished. These tribunals have not received any new cases for several years.
Legal Complaints Review Officer and Legal Aid Tribunal
Subpart 10 of the bill amends the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 with the objective of allowing the Legal Complaints Review Officer (LCRO) to reduce the significant backlog of cases. The LCRO is given new powers to hear appropriate matters on the papers and to strike out meritless complaints.
Subpart 11 amends the Legal Services Act 2011 provisions relating to the Legal Aid Tribunal. One change sets 60 working days as the period in which an application for review may be filed, replacing the current 3 months.
The Courts Matters Bill makes amendments to the Courts Security Act 1999 (safety), the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 (efficiency and timeliness), the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 (fines enforcement) and 11 other acts.
The security-related amendments would give court security officers more powers to deal with disruptive people. This includes the power to deny entry to, or to remove or to detain people who are intimidating, abusive, or otherwise causing disruption in court. Powers to detain are expanded.
The amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 includes reclassification of category 2 offences with a maximum penalty of community work as category 1 offences. The intention is to increase efficiencies as defendants can plead guilty to category 1 offences by a written notice but must appear in court for category 2 offences.
The Chief Executive of the Ministry of Justice will be authorised to approve automated decision making for imposing attachment orders to collect overdue fines, approving online offers to voluntarily pay fines, approving a number of time payment arrangements, and adding further overdue fines to existing payment arrangements.
Associate Justice Minister Mark Mitchell says while New Zealand has a robust justice system, the system should be made easier to use and to ensure that it keeps pace with people's expectations.
“Consistent, transparent and efficient processes in our courts and tribunals with financial thresholds and levels that reflect the needs of today are important considerations for people accessing justice services. New Zealanders should also expect to feel safe while in a court," he says.