Academic strives to close justice gap

26 October 2016

Senior Lecturer Les Arthur

Waikato senior lecturer and former solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand Les Arthur

A Waikato University law academic’s proposal to establish an online court and further increase the monetary threshold of disputes tribunals could enable more Kiwis who are unable to afford legal representation to secure access to justice.

Currently individuals and small businesses with civil claims can go to a disputes tribunal if the disputed amount is $15,000 or less, or if all parties agree, up to $20,000. The current proposal is to increase the monetary jurisdiction to $30,000.

Waikato senior lecturer and disputes specialist Les Arthur says we need to increase the monetary jurisdiction to something a lot higher. “There are lots of low-value disputes that range around $50,000 which are not worth going to the District Court so there’s a large gap.

“The ceiling could be increased to $50,000 and the legal rights of parties could be protected without the assistance of lawyers through the development of an online court,” Mr Arthur says.

Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice Briggs has recently proposed an online court system in England, where civil disputes up to £25,000 (around NZ$43,000) could be justly resolved without incurring the disproportionate cost of legal representation.

Like the Disputes Tribunal, the Online Court is designed to be used from start to finish by litigants without lawyers, although lawyers would not be excluded.  All the essential details of the case and the evidence they provide will be placed in an electronic file, available to both parties and the court.

The software is designed to guide parties through an analysis of his or her grievance in such a way as to produce a document capable of being understood both by opponents and the decision maker. This process would help to ensure that the key facts and evidence are clearly outlined when they arrive at the tribunal for a hearing.

“Appeals from the tribunal, which should include errors of law, could be submitted electronically to a District Court Judge and in some circumstances a decision could be made on the documents,” says Mr Arthur.

“The online court system would resolve common disagreements over issues such as goods, services and property damage more quickly and easily.”

One of the most widespread concerns about the proposed Online Court in England relates to parties challenged by or without access to a computer.

“An essential element of the development of an online tribunal would be the availability of voluntary agencies such as Community Law Centres or Citizens Advice Bureau nationwide to assist the computer-challenged,” says Mr Arthur.

Mr Arthur teaches Legal Ethics, Mediation, Insurance Law and Advanced Civil Litigation at the University of Waikato. He has particular interest in the areas of insurance law, legal ethics and mediation. Prior to becoming an academic, Mr Arthur was in private practice for more than eight years (general litigation including insurance, family and criminal law) and was a corporate counsel for Vero Insurance for two years.

He is a former Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and Director of Waikato University’s Graduate Diploma in Dispute Resolution.