The Disputes Tribunal provides a forum to decide disputes where the amount of the claim does not exceed $15,000, however the jurisdiction of the Tribunal can be extended to $20,000 with the consent of all parties. Even if the claim exceeds $15,000 it is possible to abandon the excess in order to have the Tribunal deal with the claim.
The purpose of the Tribunal is to provide a low cost and quick method of dealing with disputes.
The parties to a dispute must represent themselves and lawyers are specifically excluded from appearing. The Tribunal has jurisdiction to deal with disputes based on contract and also compensation for the damage or loss of property.
The Tribunal is able to determine the dispute according to the substantial merits and the justice of the case but in doing so, it is required to have regard to the law but is not strictly bound by the law.
The scope for an appeal against a Disputes Tribunal decision is very narrow and is restricted to the ground that the hearing was conducted in a manner that was unfair to the appellant and prejudicially affected the result of the proceedings. Referees are very careful to make sure that each party is able to have their say with the result that very few appeals succeed. Accordingly, it is very important for both parties to fully and clearly prepare their claim and their defence respectively. It is desirable to set out your case clearly in writing so that the referee has a clear appreciation of your position. If you are relying on any documentary evidence, then that should be produced. You should produce three sets of your evidence and submissions with documentary evidence attached so that you have one copy for yourself, one copy for the referee, and one copy for the other party.
Whilst a lawyer cannot appear for you in the Tribunal, you may benefit from seeking legal advice in the preparation of your claim or your defence. Given the limited right of appeal, it is imperative to make the effort to ‘get it right’ for the Disputes Tribunal hearing as you are unlikely to get a second chance.
Claim forms are available from the District Court together with a guidance pamphlet, or can be obtained from www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/disputes-tribunal.