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Small Claims Tribunal Evaluation, Volume 1: Discussion Paper

NCJ Number
P Oxley
Date Published
137 pages
This paper presents the conclusions and recommendations of seven studies evaluating the processes and effectiveness of New Zealand's small claims tribunals.
The first tribunals were implemented on a pilot project basis in 1977; full national coverage is planned by 1986. The tribunals were meant to provide quick, inexpensive, commonsense justice for the ordinary New Zealander. The tribunals are conducted by a referee (who usually has no legal training), are attached to the district courts, and are held in private. Referees attempt to effect an agreement, but arbitrate and institute an order if one is not forthcoming. Results of the evaluation indicate that the prescriptions and restrictions placed on the operations of the tribunals have been instrumental in creating a system that continues to provide low-cost, speedy, informal, and fair settlements. However, results also suggest how the scheme could be extended and improved. While many users are ordinary people, publicity has been inadequate and many remain unaware or do not understand the use of the tribunals. Further, jurisdiction of the tribunals is too limited and could logically be extended to include some substantive law issues, debts, and a higher monetary limit to keep pace with inflation. In addition, selection of referees should be more representative, referee training needs improvement, and disputants require additional nonlegal assistance in the process. Appendixes, tables, and 15 references.