The idea of extending the jurisdiction of the District Court to create what would amount to a specialist earthquake court is undoubtedly eye-catching.
Its aim would be to provide a faster, less costly (to claimants at least) jurisdiction to deal with the multiplicity of disputes that have arisen over earthquake claims.
Whether it is necessary and whether it would achieve its aims, or achieve them without introducing perverse incentives, needs significant analysis. Insurance disputes can be complex and difficult. A new court is unlikely to make them any easier, though it may have the potential to streamline the process through them.
The High Court has for some time devoted large resources to a specialist list to deal with earthquake cases.
It began in May 2012 following a commitment by the Chief High Court judge that earthquake cases be dealt with as swiftly as the court’s resources permitted.
Most judges in the High Court are experienced and highly skilled commercial practitioners, well equipped to deal with insurance disputes.
A serious line-up of similarly skilled judiciary would be a bare minimum requirement for the newly proposed court.
Labour’s idea would allow claims of up to $1 million to be brought before the District Court, which has less expertise in complex commercial matters and would require expanding its jurisdiction from the present limit of $200,000.
Simply finding judges equipped to handle the work could be a problem. Labour says they would be found from among retired judges (which means they would be 72 or older) or suitably qualified senior lawyers.
What The Press is saying is that cases will be heard by retired district court judges, rather than high court judges.
Labour also says the government would cover all costs which means that claimants would have an incentive to lodge a claim, no matter how weak it was.
That’s the real problem. The courts would get swamped.