Reforming New Zealand's Class Action Procedures to Enhance Efficiency and Improve Access to Justice
This thesis addresses the question of whether New Zealand should reform its class action procedures in order to better meet the class action objectives of efficiency and access to justice. Class actions are a mechanism whereby groups of claimants with the same or similar claims can band together and bring proceedings. The ability for groups of similarly affected claimants to bring proceedings together provides certain advantages, including efficiency (both judicial efficiency and cost efficiency) and access to justice (where there may otherwise be none). The existence of a class action mechanism can also have a regulatory effect and serve to discourage illegal or inappropriate conduct.Currently, New Zealand does not have a dedicated class actions regime, and instead operates a class action type procedure under r 4.24 of the High Court Rules (known as a representative action). A review of the New Zealand position in relation to r 4.24 indicates that while there is a substantial body of law relating to the use of the representative action procedure, the objectives of the representative action procedure are not being met. The lack of legislative guidance in relation to the representative action has created significant difficulties for claimants in New Zealand.
Reforming the New Zealand class action procedure through legislative reform would provide a more efficient procedure and enhance access to justice. Wholesale legislative reform in the form of a dedicated class actions statute would be the best way forward for New Zealand. Legislative reform would need to address particular issues that have arisen in Australia and Ontario, including issues associated with the same interest requirement, opt-in and opt-out mechanisms, settlement requirements and limitation periods. The experience in Ontario and Australia illustrates the importance of ensuring the legislation is as clear as possible, and learning from the experience in those jurisdictions is vital if the objectives of the class action procedure are to be met.