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The Disputes Tribunal hearings

The hearing: who and how to attend

Who is allowed to go to a Disputes Tribunal hearing?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, ss 38, 39

In general, the applicant, the respondent and the referee are the only people allowed in the hearing. Disputes Tribunal hearings are closed to the public and the media.

If there are witnesses, they can attend to give evidence, but they won’t stay for the whole hearing.

If the other side is a property management company or a trust, or if there is an insurance company involved in the dispute, they may have an agent attend on their behalf (see: “What if the other side has a representative?” below for more information about this).

Can I bring a support person?

You can ask to bring a support person, but they are not allowed to speak during the hearing unless the referee asks them to.

If your witness is also your support person, they have to wait outside until they’ve given their evidence, and then they can join you afterwards to provide support.

Can I have a representative go to the tribunal on my behalf?

Disputes Tribunal Act 1988, s 38

The Disputes Tribunal is meant to offer an even playing field for both sides. This is why you generally have to represent yourself, rather than have a lawyer or someone else argue your side of the story.

You might be able to appoint a representative if it wouldn’t be fair for you to represent your side on your own, for example if:

  • you’re under 18, or
  • you have a disability which would make it hard for you to present your side of the story, or
  • you will be overseas at the time of the hearing.

This representative can’t be a lawyer. If you think you need a representative, you should get in touch with the Disputes Tribunal before the hearing to ask permission.

What if the other side has a representative?

If the other side is a company, trust, or an organisation, they may be able to appoint a representative on their behalf. This person shouldn’t be a lawyer.

If you’re worried about the other side having a representative with legal experience, you should get in touch with the Disputes Tribunal to talk about your options for getting a representative. In general, the Disputes Tribunal tries to make sure there is an even playing field for both sides, so they may recommend someone else represents the other side instead.

What if I need an interpreter?

If you have any issues communicating in English, you should request an interpreter. The Tribunal will arrange for an independent interpreter to be present at the hearing. This is a free service. If you don’t request an interpreter but the referee feels you need one, they will delay the hearing until an interpreter can attend.

If a suitable interpreter is not available, you might be able to get a representative instead. This is up to the discretion of the referee.

What if I can’t come to the hearing?

You can also ask for the hearing to be postponed if you have another commitment on that day (for example, if you have pre-arranged travel). You’ll have to show evidence of the reason why you can’t attend, including evidence that it was planned before you knew the hearing date.

Can I join remotely?

The notice of hearing the Tribunal sent you will say how the first hearing will be conducted (in person at a court, or by phone, which they call “teleconference”). If the hearing is set to be in person, if you have a good reason, you can ask to attend the hearing by phone instead.

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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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