Solving the problem: causation, transparency and access to justice in New Zealand’s personal injury system

Social security Injury Justice Compensation Access to justice New Zealand

This report aims to to provide a framework that will implement long lasting reform which improves access to justice and has a positive impact on the lives of thousands of New Zealanders every year.

The report follows an earlier report to the United Nations in late 2014, an access to justice report of July 2015, its review by Miriam Dean QC, and the authors'  subsequent attempts to constructively engage with agencies responsible for implementing Ms Dean’s recommendations. After considerable reflection and research, the team has concluded that the most effective way of reducing the harm done by access to justice barriers “downstream” is to look at the systemic factors creating those barriers “upstream”. They have done their best to understand how current reform processes will help to improve access to justice. They see the access to justice issues in this area as having two problems in common. The first is the way that ACC assesses causation as a boundary test for the scheme and the effects of that process. The second is the lack of transparency and oversight around this and all other ACC dealings with other organisations and with individuals.


We have two key recommendations:

  1. Causation: To clarify the way that “causation” is assessed under the ACC scheme by the introduction of ss 3A, 6A, and 6B by amendment to the Accident Compensation Act 2001; and
  2. Personal Injury Commissioner: to introduce by means of a bill (which we have drafted) a “Personal Injury Commissioner”, who will be responsible for:
    a) leading and coordinating the efforts of the numerous institutions that manage the incidence and impact of injury in New Zealand, and helping people navigate that system through an advocacy service; and ; and
    b) collecting and publishing injury-related statistics and information to inform policy-makers, and acting as the agency ultimately responsible for management of personal injury in New Zealand; and 
    c) enhancing transparency within the Accident Compensation Corporation, and acting as a dedicated oversight and accountability body, whose task is to develop specific expertise in ACC’s history, policy, processes, and systemic practice.

The problems with access to justice that we have sought to resolve are the results of now wellknown issues with the ACC system. Within government and academia, the nature and significance of the upstream problems and downstream effects have been widely acknowledged in substance.

We suggest that many of the access to justice problems we have identified can be resolved by making the work that ACC does more transparent, particularly around how it assesses and makes decisions about “causation” and resolves its conflicting priorities and incentives.

Others who have investigated the impact and incidence of personal injury in New Zealand (and ACC’s role within that) have already acknowledged the need for better leadership and coordination of the Personal Injury system and the importance of injured people’s experiences within it.

Our recommendation is that this acknowledged policy need would be best met by the establishment of an independent Commissioner, who will be best able to act dependably, independently, impartially and decisively to develop expertise, improve access to justice and improve public trust and confidence.

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