News —

Proposed Court reforms – Improving access to civil justice


May 24, 2021

The Rules Committee proposed major reforms to the Courts’ processes in its consultation paper of 14 May 2021.  The reforms are aimed at improving access to civil justice.  The consultation paper is available here.   Broadly, the proposed reforms envisage significant changes to the processes of the Disputes Tribunal, District Court and High Court for determining civil claims.  A summary follows.  

The reforms would increase the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal (increasing the monetary limit of claims from $30,000 to $50,000) and otherwise enhance its processes.  But significantly the Committee has also requested the views of submitters on whether the Tribunal’s jurisdiction ought to be increased beyond $50,000.  So, as is signalled by the proposed name change to the “Small Claims Court”, the proposed reforms involve the Disputes Tribunal filling at least part of the “justice gap”.  

The reforms in relation to the District Court are focused on “strengthening the institutional competency of the District Court’s civil jurisdiction”.  This is because the current District Court Rules were judged to be fundamentally fit for purpose.  Some of the most significant proposals include the creation of the role of “Principal Civil Judge for the District Court” and the introduction of part-time Deputy Judges/Records (who would be appointed from the profession to deal with civil cases on a part-time basis).  

The Committee’s paper also proposes wide-reaching changes to the High Court Rules.  These are perhaps the most extensive and would fundamentally change the way in which High Court litigation is conducted in New Zealand.  

The High Court reforms aim to streamline the process for civil claims and maintain proportionality with the value, complexity and importance of the dispute.  They include replacing the current discovery regime with new disclosure rules, early and comprehensive engagement by Judges at issues conferences, interlocutory applications presumptively being determined on the papers, greater emphasis being placed on the documentary record, evidence being primarily given by affidavit and greater controls being placed on expert evidence.  

The proposed reforms, if enacted, would not come into effect for some time and are unlikely to affect most existing matters.  

Submissions on the consultation paper are due by 5 pm on 2 July 2021 – further details are available here.

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