01:45, April 11 112 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-11 01:45:05
New Zealand's human rights tribunal 'breaching human rights' due to delays

The New Zealand human rights review tribunal is in crisis and on the brink of collapse because of an “exponential increase” in cases, according to a revealing letter from its chairman, who says he is overstretched and failing some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people.

Documents obtained by the New Zealand Herald include a letter from the tribunal chairman, Roger Haines, QC, to the incoming minister of justice, Andrew Little, saying the tribunal was experiencing massive delays hearing cases, had a backlog that would take five years to clear, and people’s human rights were at risk as they experienced long waits for their day in court.

“The delays in the tribunal are reaching the point where the system is in danger of falling into disrepute if not collapsing,” Haines wrote.

“Access to justice is being denied to almost all. For a tribunal charged with protecting human rights the situation is ironic, to say the least.”

In a statement the ministry of justice said the government was reviewing how to rectify the situation, and the extreme load of responsibility on Haines who, by law, had to be a part of every panel that heard a case.

The human rights review tribunal investigates alleged breaches of the human rights act, the privacy act and the health and disability act, largely relating to discrimination.

In 2012-2013 the tribunal heard 36 cases, but by 2016-2017 this figure had leapt to 127.

At the current rate, cases were taking 22 to 28 months from filing a complaint to first hearing, a delay Little said was not good enough.

A human rights lawyer and Greens MP, Golriz Ghahraman, said the lengthy waiting time at the tribunal was a breach of human rights.

“Having your case heard expediently is a human right, access to justice includes timely access to justice,” Ghahraman said.

Little said there were likely to be provisions in the May budget to allow the court to function better, which may include additional employees, as well as planning for urgent legislative change before the end of the year that would allow deputies to chair hearings so the workload could be spread.

“We certainly inherited this problem,” Little said. “The number of applications to the human rights review tribunal has increased quite significantly with more privacy complaints than ever before, and the resources have not been increased to allow them to do their job.”

The opposition’s justice minister declined to comment.