The Canterbury Earthquake Insurance Tribunal has been reflecting on an eventful 2019 as it prepares for a busier year ahead.
Retired District Court Judge Chris Somerville, who chairs the tribunal, explained that their service is free for those who can bring a supporter or advocate, but legal or professional representation should be paid for unless the claimant qualifies for legal aid – a challenge that drove them to work on redressing the balance between homeowners, especially as some already have to deal with a mountain of bills.
“The owners themselves are often financially exhausted and are coming without a representative. Some insurers have arrived with a QC. It makes it hard for the tribunal because it’s easier when both the parties have representatives to question witnesses,” Somerville told Stuff.co.nz.
“If they don’t have a representative the tribunal gets more involved in asking questions than would be acceptable in the court process. Facts must be properly tested. The challenge is to be able to deal with that person and address the issues and still be impartial and fair.”
To further prepare for a busier year, the tribunal also collaborated with the Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Service (GCCRS), which will provide mediation and advice as well as voluntary services where an independent decision-maker makes a binding decision. It also plans to have more appointees to hear claims, beginning with interviewing lawyers for up to five extra positions that are expected to be filled in March or April.
“After a few days of evidence, you get a feeling for where it is going and parties have a better understanding. People get a reality check and people shift their position – this has happened on both sides,” Somerville said.