Blocking vexatious legal actions and other improvements

The Judicature Modernisation Bill, an omnibus bill that aims to simplify and modernise the law around how courts operate, is set to pass it’s final stage in Parliament today.

NZ Herald explains:

The main provisions stem from the Law Commission’s report on its review of the Judicature Act of 1908 – one of New Zealand’s oldest statutes still in force.

Most are not new, but are described with more modern language in an attempt to provide greater clarity.

The headline change – Courts to get powers to block vexatious legal action:

Orders will restrict people from starting or continuing civil proceedings that may have “limited, extended or general effect”.

The High Court will be able to issue three progressively stronger orders, and lower courts will be able to make similar but less restrictive orders.

The Government says this will provide greater flexibility for dealing with a small group of problem litigants who use up court time to pursue “meritless” action.

Access to justice and to legal remedies is very important, but this can be too easily abused by those using and misusing legal processes as a weapon.

Having been the target of a small group of ‘problem litigants’, and having discussed the limited power of the Court to prevent them from clogging up courts as a means of attacking people and trying to gag people with lawyers, it’s good to see this being addressed.

Labour will support the Bill at it’s third reading today but opposed requiring judges to retire at age 70. Jacinda Ardern said this was clear discrimination under the Human Rights Act but it must have passed that test to have got to it’s final stage.

However, the Government believes a retirement age is a necessary safeguard, which other countries have put in law.

Labour did succeed in changing the legislation to explicitly commit to parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. It will support the legislation during third reading tomorrow.

Other notable provisions in the 23 bill omnibus:

  • Allowing the use of electronic processes by courts. Currently, some activities such as the filing of documents can be legally performed using paper-based formats
  •  Improving the sharing of court information such as protection or restraining orders through information-sharing agreements permitted under the Privacy Act.
  • A new judicial panel will be set-up in the High Court to hear particular types of commercial cases.
  • Increasing the monetary limit of the District Court’s civil jurisdiction from $200,000 to $350,000.
  • Requiring final written judgments to be published online.

It will be for good final written judgments to be available to the public. I requested one recently and was told it would require the permission of the judge, I would have to explain why I wanted it, and I would have to pay for it. Open justice should mean open access to all judgments that aren’t subject to suppression orders.