Office of Human Rights Proceedings

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Human Rights Review Tribunal?

The Tribunal is a specialist body that deals with cases brought under the Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA), the Privacy Act 1993 and the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994.  It is made up of a Chairperson and a panel of up to 20 members.  Each case is heard by the Chairperson and two members.  More information about the Tribunal is available here.

Do I need to do anything before taking a discrimination or privacy case to the Tribunal?

Yes.  If you want to bring a discrimination claim, then you must first make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.  More information about the Commission, including its complaint form, is available here.

If you want to bring a privacy claim, then you must first make a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.  More information about the Privacy Commission, including its complaint form, is available here.

Do I need to apply to the Office if I want to take a discrimination case to the Tribunal?

No.  You have the option of applying to the Office (PDF) (click here to access this form via Word) for free legal representation, but you do not have to.  You can represent yourself in the Tribunal or instruct your own lawyer.

Similarly, if the Director decides not to provide you with representation, this does not prevent you from representing yourself in the Tribunal or instructing a lawyer.

What does the Director have to consider when deciding whether to provide an applicant with representation?

The Director considers the following criteria when assessing whether to provide legal representation:

  1. Whether the complaint raises a significant question of law.
  2. Whether resolving the complaint would affect a large number of people.
  3. The level of harm involved in the matter.
  4. Whether the proceedings are likely to succeed.
  5. Whether the available remedies are likely to suit the particular case.
  6. Whether there is likely to be any conflict of interest in providing representation.
  7. Whether providing representation is an effective use of resources.
  8. Whether or not it would be in the public interest to provide representation.
  9. Any other matter the Director considers relevant.

I am a defendant in a Human Rights Act case – can I apply for representation?

No. The Office only represents plaintiffs.

What happens after I have made an application for legal representation?

Once we have received your application, we will write to the Commission to ask for a copy of your complaint file (provided you consent to us doing so).  One of our solicitors will review your file and they or the Director may then arrange a meeting with you to discuss your complaint further.  You may be asked to supply further information and/or documents.  When the Director has all of the information that he needs, he will make a decision on your application. You will receive a letter advising of his decision and the reasons for it. The Director must make careful assessments of the merits of a case before deciding to provide representation.

What information do I need to tell the Office?

You should tell the Office all of the details of your complaint (where it happened, when, what happened and details of the harm caused to you). You also need to tell the Office anything that the defendant might bring up in the Tribunal (e.g. if you have other disputes with the defendant). If we later discover that you have withheld important information that materially affects your case, the Director could decide to withdraw representation.

Any information you tell us will be kept confidential. We will not disclose information to others without your consent.

How long will it take until I have a decision on my application?

This will depend on how complex your case is and how many applications the Office is dealing with at the time.  We aim to have a decision within 60 working days of receiving your complaint file from the Human Rights Commission.

What if I am not happy with the decision?

You cannot appeal the Director's decision. If the Director declines to provide you with legal representation, you may still bring your own proceedings in the Tribunal.  You can represent yourself in the Tribunal or engage your own lawyer. More information about the Tribunal is available here.

Can the Director withdraw legal representation?

Yes. The Director may decide to withdraw legal representation at any stage, such as when:

  • new information becomes available which means that your case is unlikely to succeed;
  • you are unable to be contacted, despite repeated attempts;
  • you refuse a reasonable offer of settlement made by the defendant.

If the Director decides to provide legal representation, will this cost me anything?

No. Legal representation is available for free.

Will I have to give evidence in the Tribunal?

Yes. You will have to give evidence about what happened and how it has affected you.  Your evidence will be a written statement that you read out at the hearing.  The defendant’s lawyer will have the opportunity to cross-examine you and you will also need to answer questions from the Tribunal about your evidence.

A lawyer from the Office will help you to prepare your written statement and will meet with you before the hearing to prepare you for giving evidence.

Will the case be public?

The Tribunal’s hearings are usually open to the public.  Media can come to the hearing and report on your case. In special circumstances, the Tribunal will order name suppression.

If I’m successful, will I get financial compensation?

In some cases, yes. The Tribunal can award damages for financial loss (e.g. lost earnings), loss of a benefit and/or emotional harm.  Our lawyers can discuss with you what kind of damages might be appropriate in your case.

The Tribunal can also make an order that the defendants attend Human Rights Act training.

If your complaint is about legislation, then the only order the Tribunal can make is a declaration that the legislation is inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Can my case be settled without a hearing?

In some cases, yes. The Director has the power to send matters back to mediation with the Human Rights Commission.  In some cases when the Director refers a matter back to mediation, a lawyer from the Office may represent you at the mediation.

It may also be possible to settle your case without mediation, through negotiations with the defendant.

Can the Director represent me on appeal or in any other proceeding?

Not necessarily. If the Director decides to provide you with legal representation, this does not automatically entitle you to representation for an appeal or any other proceedings. In each instance, the Director will make a new decision as to whether to provide you with legal representation. 

Can the Office represent me in a Privacy Act matter in the Tribunal? 

If you have a privacy complaint, you should contact the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. If the Privacy Commissioner forms a view that there is an interference with privacy, she may refer the matter to the Director of Human Rights Proceedings. If the Director decides to issue proceedings in the Tribunal, he is named as the plaintiff.  He does not act as the privacy complainant’s lawyer.

Can the Office represent me in a health and disability matter in the Tribunal?

No. If you have a health and disability complaint, you should contact the Health and Disability Commissioner.

Where can I find decisions of the Tribunal?

The Tribunal’s decisions are available online.