12.12We then went on to comment that the District Courts are the “people’s courts” and are intended to be the primary courts of first instance, and that there are valid arguments that the limit should be even higher than $300,000 (for example, New South Wales and Queensland both are at A$750,000). However, we noted that a decision such as this involves substantive issues of policy, including questions of geographical and financial accessibility, and considerations regarding the most efficient and cost-effective forum, the need to balance civil and criminal matters, and the availability and expertise of judges.
12.13Almost all submitters were in favour of increasing the upper limit of the District Courts’ jurisdiction. The lone dissenter argued that the procedure for bringing a claim in the District Courts is not amenable to complicated claims, which might involve multiple causes of action or more than two parties, and said that claims of a higher value are more likely to be complicated claims.
12.15In terms of the size of any increase in the civil jurisdiction limit, there was disagreement as to the level to which it should be raised. Some favoured an increase to only the inflationary measure of $300,000, while others suggested $400,000 or $500,000.
12.16The District Courts’ Civil Committee advocated most strongly for an increase to $500,000. In its view, such an increase would mean more litigants could utilise the District Courts’ “settlement first” approach, which would increase access to justice. It also noted there are now more specialised civil designated judges (who are specifically trained in case settlement and with civil litigation and commercial backgrounds) on the District Courts bench, and inflation alone does not reflect the growing transactional, commercial and land values in New Zealand’s economy. A limit of $500,000 was also the most popular option (with 45 per cent support) in a survey the New Zealand Bar Association conducted of its members (56 per cent of members said the jurisdiction should be increased).
12.19We say “ideally” because, as noted in Issues Paper 29, it is difficult to gauge what effect such an increase might have on, for example, the number of District Courts and judges required. We have discussed this with the Ministry of Justice, which agrees there may be resourcing implications from any significant increase to the jurisdiction of the District Court. However, while the Ministry does not have adequate data at this time to ascertain just what these would be, it considers they would likely be relatively minor.
12.20Our recommendation is, therefore, to raise the limit to $500,000, but this can only be provisional until such time as modelling can be done by the Ministry to determine the practical effect of such an increase and whether it is in fact feasible.
R56 The upper limit of the civil jurisdiction of the District Courts should be increased to $500,000 if this is feasible in terms of judicial and court resources.