INDEPENDENT NEWS

Govt forces Small Claims Court hearings delay

Published: Mon 1 Mar 2004 09:07 AM
Govt forces Small Claims Court to delay hundreds of hearings
Hundreds of people turning up at the Small Claims Court are being told to come back in six to twelve weeks as the Government dithers over a strike by the referees who judge small claims cases, says National's Law and Order spokesman, Tony Ryall.
Mr Ryall says that since the Disputes Tribunal referees began direct action a fortnight ago an estimated 500 cases have been deferred.
"There are at least two parties to each of these disputes meaning over a thousand people have turned up at court only to be told to come back months later, in some cases three months later depending which part of the country they live in. These people are naturally very angry.
"All this because the Courts Minister, Rick Barker, has dealt with this issue incompetently without respect for judicial independence.
"The Minister has even put a gag on officials. They have been told not to tell the public the strike is causing the delays.
"The Tribunal's 51 referees are angry at the bad faith shown by the Government in reviewing its fee levels for the first time in many years.
"It is ordinary people using the small claims system who will have to carry the can.
"It's taking longer for cases to be heard and for justice to be done. Some cases first filed in October and November last year have still not been dealt with. The additional three-month delay will see some people waiting up to six months to get their claim dealt with.
"What more can the Disputes Tribunal referees do? They have been misled by the Government at every turn. In fact, the Minister promised on television that he would call a meeting to deal with the issue, but he hasn't.
"Running a decent justice system should be a top priority for any democracy. This unprecedented industrial action is yet more evidence that Helen Clark is letting our system fall into disrepair.
"The referees warned Helen Clark last October that direct action was coming and she has done nothing," said Mr Ryall.

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