The United Nations Reporting Cycle in 2014
In 2013, the New Zealand Law Foundation gave us a Shadow Report Award. We worked with Acclaim Otago to produce a series of reports about the issues facing injured people in New Zealand. We did this because when the Government in New Zealand had not thought very much about people with disabilities caused by accidents and injuries as it was trying to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities..
The first report was for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to understand the issues and raise them with our Government. This report was called Adopting Issues.
In our second report, we decided to focus on Access to Justice being one of the key issues among many We asked injured New Zealanders what issues they had and then we summarised these. This second report was called Crying for help from the shadows: The real situation in New Zealand.
The third report we did was the "Shadow Report" which we produced for Acclaim Otago to present to the United Nations Committee in Geneva. It focused on the problems of Access to Justice. It was called The Costs of Paradigm Change: Access to Justice for People with Disabilities Caused by Personal Injury in New Zealand.
After they considered our reports and Acclaim Otago's presentation in Geneva, work, the United Nations made recommendations to the New Zealand Government. The Committee told the New Zealand Government to do some things that have not yet been done.
Understanding the problem in 2015
After our UN work, we did further research into access to justice for injured New Zealanders. Our 2015 report identified the barriers facing injured people trying to challenge ACC’s decisions through legal processes. It was supported by a large number of individuals and organisations. This report was about Understanding the Problem. The four barriers to access to justice were:
- Access to representation,
- Access to medical evidence,
- Access to the law, and
- People felt they weren’t being heard in the dispute resolution process.
The Dean Review in 2016
Our report got a lot of media attention. The Government asked Miriam Dean QC to review our research and to work out whether we were right. Her report agreed with these four barriers to access to justice and made some recommendations to address these failures.
Solving the Problem in 2017
Our latest research tried to solve the problems we identified in our 2015 report. We called it “Solving the Problem”. We found that most of the barriers to access to justice we had previously identified could be avoided if two key solutions were implemented:
- New Zealand needs a “Personal Injury Commissioner” to provide oversight and co-ordination of the Personal Injury System; and
- the way ACC assesses “causation” needs to change, because this determines who it will help and who it will not help. These boundaries need to be made less complex, or removed altogether.
The Solving the Problem report includes a draft Bill that would illustrate how a Commissioner would work.
What do we mean by Effective Access to Justice?
While we were doing this work, we found that when we said “access to justice”, different people thought about different things.
We wrote an article to bring clarity in thinking about access to justice and it was published in an international academic journal.
The purpose of this article is to bring clarity in thinking about access to justice. We examine the idea of access to justice in the reform of personal injury law in New Zealand. Our findings are applicable to law reform in any area of law involving vulnerable people. After tracing the legal history of “access to justice,” we isolate four separate conceptions of access to justice: equality before the law, a hybrid of judicial and nonjudicially focused conceptions that we have called the multifactorial conception, and conceptions emphasizing either judicial or non-judicial elements. We identify key features of each conception, and its strengths and weaknesses, in order to improve the quality of dialogue in law reform efforts. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for law, which allow comparisons to be made between systems of law and law reform that aim to improve access to justice.