The New Zealand Law Foundation has offered a $150,000 grant to researchers in Dunedin who are seeking practical ways for those injured to have access to justice when dealing with the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC).
The team of researchers is supported by the University of Otago’s Legal Issues Centre and the ACC claimant group, Acclaim Otago.
The latest research is based on solving the issues brought up in an earlier report, Understanding the Problem
. This study highlighted a “collision” between certain cost cutting measures involving the ACC and the country’s broader human rights obligations.
The research foundations came from the UN Convention of Rights of People with Disabilities which states that countries should provide access to justice for all, lead researcher, Warren Forster, told NZLawyer.
“The government agreed that things needed to be fixed but when they went to the UN with a proposal, it didn’t work because there was no deeper understanding of what the problems were,” Forster said. “So on the surface, you have this veneer of a system that’s functioning as it should be, but when you start doing research into how the law operates, you uncover some problems.”
Previous research looked at what happened from the injury through to the dispute resolution, Forster said. The team examined how the process worked, what could be done more efficiently, and the way in which people had access to evidence, representation, etc.
“What we’re trying to do now is fill in the knowledge gaps that we found,” he said. After these gaps are identified, the researchers will take this knowledge and possible solutions and have a discussion with all relevant stakeholders, Forster said. The aim is to create a collaborative effort between all parties.
“We want all stakeholders to come and share their views on how we can improve things right from the very start,” he said. “We need to get people on board, engage with them and have people feeling as though they can make a difference because then we’ll get the best out of everyone.”
The team aims to release their results by July next year.
However, solving these issues is not is not as simple as filling each knowledge gap or fixing each individual problem, Forster explains.
“When you’re dealing with an entire system, there’s something called the ‘Freeway Effect’. Say there are only 20 people travelling on a road because it’s a dirt road. If you change that to make it a four lane highway, you’re going to have hundreds or thousands of people driving along. So the freeway effect within the solution needs to be taken into account.”
It is therefore necessary to understand the consequences of any proposed changes first before any adjustments to access to justice and the dispute resolution system are made, Forster said.