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Poor Justice

At least forty appellants to the Court of Appeal were denied a hearing in 2013 because they could not afford to pay into court the anticipated legal costs of those opposing their appeals, as a condition to having their appeals heard.

The actual number is not known because the Ministry of Justice refuses to collect statistics and the regime is “off the court record”. The Registrar directs the financial impediments to court access by email and unrecorded letters.

It is called “security for costs” and it is the “well established” way of selling justice in New Zealand – this according to at least 10 New Zealand Supreme Court leave refusals issued in 2013 alone.

In contrast to the New Zealand High Court where only poor people are required to pay the anticipated costs of opposing counsel as a prerequisite to obtaining a hearing, the Court of Appeal has a regime which sets standard requirements that security be paid. The typical security order at the Court of Appeal is between $5,880 and $11,760. Under Rule 35(6) of the Court of Appeal (Civil) Rules 2005, the Registrar – a former police officer who is currently being criminally prosecuted for assault and battery – has absolute discretion to “(a) increase the amount of security: (b) reduce the amount of security: (c) dispense with security: (d) defer the date by which security must be paid.”

Appellants who disagree with a bent cop being the legally unconstrained ticket-clipper of New Zealand’s highest court by right have one shot to make their best written argument to the wizard behind the curtain if their view differs from the bent cop. According to New Zealand Supreme Court fiat last year (SC2/2013 [2013] NZSC11), there is no right of appeal and hearing against the almighty and powerful Registrar. The only recourse is to seek a chambers ruling (i.e. a legal crapshoot) from a single Court of Appeal judge who (presumably) reads the file and makes a decision on entry to the land of OZ from the undisturbed confines of their favourite pub.

This is New Zealand justice at its finest. The “enabler” for New Zealand is those who fall victim to the endemic corruption, who go away convinced they simply were unlucky in a court system which otherwise values equal access. The numbers are huge but largely unnoticed in this land of the flightless birds. Sitting on the remote heel of the earth does have this advantage. But, also, the illusion makes us feel good despite the costs – namely, that we are a step above the corruption in America and Australia which is allowed to be reported. We don’t give a damn that all New Zealand’s intrepid reporters have left for those safe confines. We still have the reporters who keep us abreast of celebrity sightings and whale beachings, so all is good.