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The Disputes Tribunal hearings

The hearing: what happens on the day

Joining the hearing

The first time a claim is heard, you’ll join in person or over the phone, depending on what was agreed with the notice of hearing.

If it’s by phone, the referee will call you on the number you’ve provided at the agreed time.

If you are attending the hearing in person, it is usually held at a District Court or hearing centre. Even if it’s at a District Court, this won’t look like a normal court room.

You’ll be in a small meeting room and sit around a table with the referee and the other party. You don’t have to dress formally.

You should arrive at least 30 minutes before your hearing start time, as it can take a long time to get through District Court security. There will be an area to wait in before you’re invited into the hearing.

If there’s an emergency, or you’re running late and won’t make the hearing, you should get in touch with the local Registry as soon as possible, to try and postpone the hearing. The contact details will be on the notice of hearing the Tribunal sent you. If you can’t get through, you should call 0800 268 787 to explain the situation.

What happens if the other person doesn’t show up?

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 they have a good reason for not showing up, this can be grounds to apply for a rehearing.

What will be the process at the hearing?

  • Introductions – The hearing will begin with the referee introducing everyone and explaining the procedure for the hearing.
  • Stating your case – Both the applicant and the respondent will be asked to explain their side of the dispute. The applicant will be invited to speak first. You can’t interrupt the other person while they are talking. Instead, you should make any notes of points you disagree with, so you can them discuss later.
  • Witnesses – If either side has any witnesses, they will be called into the hearing room to give evidence after the applicant and respondent have spoken. The referee and both parties can ask a witness questions. If your support person is going to be a witness, they’ll have to wait outside until after they’ve given evidence.
  • Discussion of disagreements – Once you have both shared your side of the story, the referee will explain the law, identify the points that both sides agree on, the points you disagree on, and the areas for discussion. Both sides will get to comment and ask questions to clear up the points that they disagree on.
  • Attempt to agree on a decision – During the hearing, the referee will usually try to help you reach an agreement yourselves.
  • Referee makes an order – If an agreement is reached, the referee can record it as an order, and it will be legally enforceable (see: “Enforcing Disputes Tribunal orders”). If you can’t come to an agreement on your own, the referee will consider the evidence, make a decision, and record it as an order.

Did this answer your question?

The Disputes Tribunal

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Disputes Tribunal

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

Website: www.disputestribunal.govt.nz

Information on how to make a claim to the Disputes Tribunal: www.disputestribunal.govt.nz/how-to-make-a-claim
Make a claim online:  www.disputestribunal.govt.nz/how-to-make-a-claim/apply-online
Applying to the Disputes Tribunal by paper: www.disputestribunal.govt.nz/assets/DT-Claim-form2.pdf

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

Consumer NZ

Consumer NZ provides information on how the Disputes Tribunal works and may be a helpful resource for consumer-related claims.

Website: www.consumer.org.nz/articles/disputes-tribunals
Email: info@consumer.org.nz
Phone: 0800 266 786

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB)

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

Website: www.cab.org.nz
Phone: 0800 367 222
Find your local CAB office: www.cab.org.nz select “Find a CAB”

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