A former Vero Insurance corporate counsel turned insurance law lecturer is calling for New Zealand to establish an online court system and increase Disputes Tribunals’ monetary funds.
Les Arthur, senior lecturer and disputes specialist at the University of Waikato, made the proposal in a bid to make legal representation more affordable to Kiwis.
Currently, individuals and small businesses with civil claims can go to a Disputes Tribunal if the disputed amount is less than $15,000 − or $20,000 if all parties agree. Arthur has proposed to increase the monetary threshold to $30,000.
"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," Arthur said.
"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."
In England, Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice Briggs has recently proposed an online court that would allow for the resolution of disputes of up to £25,000 ($43,000) without the exorbitant costs of legal representation.
The online court would provide litigants with the choice to be or not to be represented by lawyers. All evidence would be placed in an electronic file and be made available to the court and all parties.
The electronic software would guide the parties through the process of grievance analysis, producing documents that can be understood by the litigants and the decision-maker.
"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," said Arthur.
"The online court system would resolve common disagreements over issues such as goods, services, and property damage more quickly and easily."
Arthur noted the lack of access to computers as a challenge to implementing the online system, but said community agencies could help resolve this issue.
"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," he said.
Arthur currently teaches legal ethics, mediation, insurance law and advanced civil litigation. Prior to this, he was in private practice for over eight years and was corporate counsel for Vero Insurance for two years. He also served as former barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand and director of Waikato University’s graduate diploma in dispute resolution.
Custody battles should include insurance too
Insurer Vero issues social media warning