And then we were one…NZ & Australian courts move closer

In November 2009 the Australia Government introduced legislation implementing the Agreement between Australia and New Zealand on Trans-Tasman Court Proceedings and Regulatory Enforcement. The Trans-Tasman Proceedings Bill 2010 was passed by both Houses of the Australian Parliament and is now awaiting Royal Assent.

The New Zealand Government introduced parallel legislation on 24 November 2009. The Bill received its first reading on 23 March 2010 and has been referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee. Submissions in the Bill are due by 7 May 2010 and the Select Committee’s Report is due on 29 July 2010.

While the two countries treat each other in the same way when it comes to cross-border court proceedings, this legislation will enable closer integration of the two civil justice systems.

Some important measures in the Bill include:

  1. Simplifying the service requirement for civil court proceedings.  For instance the new legislation will enable a statement of claim filed in a court to be served on someone in New Zealand as of right and visa versa. A plaintiff will no longer be required to prove a connection between the proceedings and New Zealand, or to seek leave of the court.
  2. The New Zealand Bill and its Australian equivalent will adopt a common give-way rule for deciding which country’s court should hear a dispute. The current problem of courts in New Zealand and Australian applying different tests to decide this issue leading to unnecessary expense and uncertainty will hopefully be ameliorated.
  3. The Bill will expand the range of Australian court judgments that can be enforced in New Zealand, and simplify the process for enforcing them. Currently, only final money judgments from one country may be enforced in the other. This Bill extends this to include final non-money judgments, such as an injunction. The only ground for not enforcing an Australian judgment will be public policy.  However, it will continue the case that any challenge to the merits of a judgment will meed to be raised with the original court.
  4. The Bill also introduces new measures to improve regulatory enforcement. New Zealand and Australia both have a strong mutual interest in the integrity of trans-Tasman markets and the effective enforcement of each other’s regulatory regimes. The bill will allow all Australian civil pecuniary penalties to be enforced in New Zealand, unless they are specifically excluded from the regime. The parallel legislation in Australia contains mirror provisions.
  5. The Bill will also allow criminal fines to be enforced in the same way as a civil judgment debt is but only in respect of those regulatory regimes that affect the integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency of trans-Tasman markets.
  6. Finally the Bill will simplify the conduct of court proceedings in various ways including through the use of technology.