Courts Matters Bill and Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill: First ReadingCourts
I move that the cognate bills, the Courts Matters Bill and the Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill, be now read a first time.
I nominate the Justice and Electoral Committee to consider these bills. The two bills are being introduced as cognate bills because they form an integrated package of reform of the courts and tribunals system.
Independent, fair and efficient courts and tribunals are a cornerstone of any healthy democracy. New Zealand has a robust system which serves us well, but we can and should make the system easier to use and ensure that it keeps pace with people’s expectations.
Mr Speaker, the Courts Matters Bill and the Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill are the latest in a programme of legislative reform ensuring the legal framework for our justice services enables courts and tribunals to move with the times. This is a process of continuous improvement that is structured around making the system easier for people to understand and to use while upholding the law.
Consistent, transparent and efficient processes in our courts and tribunals that reflect the needs of today are important considerations for people accessing justice services.
These two bills will contribute towards the development of a modern, efficient and effective courts and tribunals system. These bills will:
- reduce the time it takes to hear and resolve matters and will improve users’ experience of the courts and tribunals system
- enable greater use of modern technology to further improve efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness
- simplify and standardise statutory powers and procedures to improve productivity and efficiency; and
- provide better consumer protection and redress, and greater access to justice.
Mr Speaker, I turn now to the Court Matters Bill. This bill amends 14 acts governing court security, criminal procedure, fines enforcement, and other court processes.
Part One of the Courts Matters Bill amends the Court Security Act to extend the powers of Court Security Officers to deny entry, remove and detain people who possess illegal drugs, or act threateningly or abusively, or commit minor crimes, on court premises. Court Security Officers are currently only authorised to detain people who have committed very serious offences. These increased powers will assist Court Security Officers to provide the safe, secure, and orderly court environment that court users are entitled to.
Part Two of the Courts Matters Bill amends the Criminal Procedure Act to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness of criminal processes and to address issues that have been identified following the implementation of major criminal procedural reforms in 2013. For example, Category 2 offences with a maximum penalty of community work have been reclassified as Category 1 offences. This recognises that these defendants do not always need to appear in court. Instead, they will be able to plead either guilty or not guilty through a written letter to the court.
Part Three of the Courts Matters Bill amends the Summary Proceedings Act to strengthen the credibility of fines as a sanction and enable more money to be collected sooner. This will include greater use of modern technology to set up time payment arrangements.
Part Three will also simplify the procedures for placing charges on land and forcibly selling land to pay large fines. This will enable the District Court to impose statutory land charges on land owned by defendants who have overdue fines of $5,000 or more and to sell the land of defendants with overdue fines of $50,000 or more. The new simpler processes will enable these tools to be used more often.
Part Four of the Courts Matters Bill amends eleven Acts to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and timeliness of court processes and will also improve users’ experiences. For example, the order of the two judicial inquiries under the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act will be reversed so that victims and other witnesses will not have to attend and give evidence twice.
Part Four also amends the Juries Act. Court staff will be able to communicate with jurors electronically, meaning jurors will receive information more quickly and by a more convenient method.
Part Four will also authorise court registrars to excuse potential jurors who are not confident in their understanding of the English language. This will provide these people with a simpler and quicker process, that doesn’t require the involvement of a judge.
Mr Speaker, I turn now to the Tribunals Powers and Procedures Legislation Bill, which I will refer to as the Tribunals Bill.
The Tribunals Bill will standardise and modernise the powers and procedures of 21 tribunals to improve their productivity, efficiency and timeliness. These tribunals include the Disputes Tribunal and the Tenancy Tribunal, which almost 30,000 New Zealanders accessed in the 2016/17 financial year.
Users of these 21 tribunals will benefit from new standard provisions governing:
- the summoning of witnesses
- the awarding of costs when a person has obstructed or unreasonably delayed proceedings; and
- contempt - so that disruptive people can be removed from a hearing.
Financial thresholds and levels that reflect the needs of today are important considerations for people accessing justice services. The Tribunals Bill will double the monetary limit of the Disputes Tribunal: it will increase from $15,000 to $30,000. This means that more disputes will be able to be resolved by the tribunal, which is a cheaper and faster alternative to a court case.
The Tribunals Bill will also provide better consumer protection and redress. For example, the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal will be able to award compensation of up to $100,000 for financial losses arising from a real estate agent’s “unsatisfactory conduct”. This will also provide a simpler, quicker and cheaper alternative to a court case. In addition, the Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority will be able to discipline “unsatisfactory conduct” as well as “misconduct”. This will promote higher standards and increased confidence in this sector.
Users of other tribunals will also benefit from the Tribunals Bill. For example, the Legal Complaints Review Officer will be given the powers needed to reduce the backlog of cases that has developed. More cases will be able to be dealt with on the papers instead of a hearing having to be held. Meritless complaints will be able to be struck out. This will enable other cases to be resolved sooner.
The Government is also taking this opportunity to disestablish the defunct Birdlings Flat Land Titles Commissioner. The Commissioner completed this work some seventeen years ago.
Finally, Mr Speaker, in conclusion, these two cognate bills will:
- further modernise court processes
- standardise the powers and procedures of 21 tribunals to improve their productivity, efficiency and timeliness
- improve users’ experiences of the courts and tribunals system; and
- help make people safer in court and tribunal buildings.
I commend these bills to the House.