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Extending ACC appeal jurisdiction to the Supreme Court

29 November 2019

The judgment of the Supreme Court on 11 October, in the Shark Experience Ltd appeal case (Shark Experience Ltd v Pauamac5 Inc [2019] NZSC 111), highlights once again the anomaly in the ACC legislation that prevents an appeal on a question of ACC law being heard by the Supreme Court, the highest authority in the land.

The Shark Experience case involved one appellant and three respondents and six legal counsel were involved. The case was heard on 26 March 2019 before a full bench of five Supreme Court Judges who almost seven months later, delivered a 121-page judgment setting aside a decision of the Court of Appeal that “shark cage diving is an offence under s 63A Wildlife Act 1953”. A huge amount of legal and judicial resources were applied to arriving at that decision which affected one commercial enterprise.

Surely decisions by ACC on cover and entitlements under the ACC legislation affecting the rights of every victim of accidental injury in New Zealand, are more important and require an urgent review of the law.

The Supreme Court Act 2004 created the Supreme Court which was intended to replace the Privy Council in England, as the ultimate appeal authority under New Zealand law. However, for some reason, appeals on questions of law against ACC decisions, have been limited by legislation to appeals to the Court of Appeal.

Attempts by the New Zealand Law Society to remedy the situation by extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, have fallen on deaf ears. No minister has moved to amend the law and there has been no “white knight” in any Parliament, who has led a move to improve the lot of accident victims who have not had the benefit of ultimate authority on questions of ACC law and policy. The ACC Board is obviously not anxious for its decisions to be tested before the highest legal authority to establish the true meaning of the complex legislation the Board administers.

A review of ACC law was not on the work programme of the previous government nor does it have priority with the present government so the anomaly remains. Yet another frustration for accident victims.

Don Rennie
Former Convenor NZLS ACC Committee, Wellington.

Last updated on the 29th November 2019