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Government & legal system

Disputes Tribunal hearings

Who can attend the hearing

Who is allowed to go to a Disputes Tribunal hearing?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 38

In general, the Disputes Tribunal referee and the parties to the dispute are the only ones who are able to attend the hearing. The applicant and respondent present their own cases without a lawyer or other representative.

Witnesses can also attend the hearing to give evidence.

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 39

Disputes Tribunal hearings are private and are closed to the public and the media. In rare situations, the Tribunal may allow a person to attend the hearing if they have a genuine and proper interest in the case or in the work of the Disputes Tribunal.

Can someone else ever represent the applicant or respondent?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 38

In some limited cases, the applicant or respondent may be able to appoint a representative, for example, if the person requiring a representative:

  • is under 18 years of age, or
  • has a disability that prevents them from presenting their own case, or
  • will be overseas at the time of the hearing, or
  • for some other good reason, is unable to present their case.

If a person requires a representative, they must contact the Disputes Tribunal before the hearing to ask permission.

Note: The representative cannot be a person who is or has been a lawyer or an experienced advocate, unless that person is a party to the claim.

What if I need an interpreter?

If the applicant or respondent has difficulty communicating in English and needs an interpreter, they should tell the Disputes Tribunal as soon as possible. The Tribunal will arrange for an independent interpreter to be present at the hearing. This is a free service. If an interpreter is not available, this could be a reason for a representative to be allowed.

What about support people?

In some circumstances, the Tribunal may allow the applicant or respondent to bring a friend or support person to the hearing. The support person is not allowed to speak during the hearing unless they are asked to speak by the referee.

What happens if one of the parties doesn’t come to the hearing?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 42

The Disputes Tribunal referee can make a decision even if one of the parties is not there. The referee’s decision will be based on the information presented at the hearing.

If there is an important reason why the applicant or respondent cannot come to the hearing, they should contact the Disputes Tribunal as soon as possible to see if the hearing can be postponed.

Appearing by teleconference

If you live more than 100 km from where the claim is being heard, you can apply to the Tribunal to take part in the hearing by telephone conference.

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The Disputes Tribunal

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal advice and can help you apply to the Disputes Tribunal or defend a claim there.

Consumer NZ


This provides information on how the Disputes Tribunal works, your rights at the hearing and how to file a claim.

Disputes Tribunal


This website includes general information about how to apply, fees, the hearing process, and appeals.

You can apply online at:

Some Disputes Tribunal decisions are available to read at: www.disputesTribunal.govt.nz/disputes-decision-finder

Citizens Advice Bureau


Phone (0800 FOR CAB) 0800 367 222

Contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau for information about the Disputes Tribunal process.

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