Disputes Tribunal Jurisdiction Limits 11 Dec 2011

In February 2009, the New Zealand Government announced an intention to increase the Disputes Tribunal jurisdiction limits.  Presently, claims are limited to $7,500.00, or $12,000.00 if the defendant agrees. These limits are to be lifted to $15,000.00 and $20,000.00 respectively.

What is the Disputes Tribunal?

The Disputes Tribunal of New Zealand is a statutory tribunal established to resolve disputes involving lower value claims either by agreement between the parties or by determination of a disputes tribunal referee.

The Disputes Tribunal is much more flexible than a District Court. No one is allowed to be represented by a lawyer, and the tribunal is not bound to strictly apply the letter of the law.  Instead it must aim to reach a decision according to the merits and justice of the case having regard to the law.  This emphasis on what is fair and just, rather than the letter of the law, allows a referee to take matters into account that a judge in a District Court may be prevented from considering.

What claims can be heard in the Disputes Tribunal?

Currently the Tribunal can deal with a range of disputes for amounts up to $7,500.00 or by agreement up to $12,000.00.  The types of disputes could include:

There are some limitations. There must be a dispute - you can’t file a claim if someone simply refuses to pay a bill, when there is no argument about whether they owe the money. The Tribunal is also limited in terms of disputes concerning employment, land sales, wills, rates, taxes, and other statutory amounts.

Additionally, if your dispute involves more than the Disputes Tribunal Limits, and you want the Disputes Tribunal to deal with it, you must reduce the amount you are claiming.

What are the Disputes Tribunal Limits being increased to?

Justice Minister Simon Power has stated that the Disputes Tribunal jurisdiction is to be expanded to $15,000.00 or $20,000.00 by agreement between the parties. This is intended to reduce the amount of time small businesses are tied up in District Court battles.

Should I consider bringing a claim in the Disputes Tribunal?

If your claim falls within the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal, you may not have any choice.  This is because the District Court can, and usually will, order that the matter be referred to the Disputes Tribunal.  Where you have a choice, the Disputes Tribunal is cheaper and faster than a District Court claim, but the results can be unpredictable because the law is not necessarily strictly applied as it would be in the District Court.

Preparation is the Key

Probably the single most important aspect of bringing (or defending) a claim in the Disputes Tribunal is preparation.  Make sure that you have copies of any important documents, such as bills, receipts, photographs or reports.  Ensure that any important witnesses can attend.  If they cannot do so in person they may be able to attend by telephone and support a written summary of what they saw or know. Review each step of your claim (or defence) thoroughly before the hearing so that you can anticipate any challenge that the other party might make and anticipate any concerns that the referee may have.

Although you ordinarily cannot be represented by a lawyer in a Disputes Tribunal hearing, Parry Field Lawyers can provide assistance with preparing your claim, and with preparing submissions and evidence in support of your claim.

Should you need any assistance with disputes, please contact Paul Cowey (348-8480) at Parry Field Lawyers.