Settling Disputes Simply – Small Claims and Small Businesses in New Zealand

Author: Anne Darroch, Unitec Institute of Technology

Abstract: The provision of a legal process which deals with low-value civil matters is a universal issue. While access to justice is held out as a social good, the reality of legal action is often that it is expensive, time-consuming, rule-bound and intimidating. The cost of the action is often disproportionate to the amount at stake. Small and medium-sized businesses play a significant role in the New Zealand economy. In 2005 the Ministry of Economic Development reported that 96% of enterprises employ 19 or fewer people. Many of these businesses find it uneconomic to take a modest claim to the District Court due to the high costs involved and consequently, rely on the Disputes Tribunal as a forum to resolve issues. There has been little research done in New Zealand which canvasses the views of the users of the Disputes Tribunal. This paper presents a study of the perceived efficacy of the Disputes Tribunal by small and medium-sized businesses.