Soon after you lodge an appeal or application with the registrar, it goes to an Environment Court Judge. The Judge will determine how to manage your case.
The registrar fixes a time and place for any conferences or hearings, and notifies all parties about this.
Below are the different ways the court can manage a case.
The decision to have a hearing will depend on factors such as the complexity of the issues, the number of witnesses, and the urgency of the matter. In general, the court hears proceedings in the order in which they were lodged (received by them). If you want your case to be heard earlier, you can apply for a priority fixture. You will have to show that this is necessary for the public interest, or in the interests of justice (for instance, in some situations, a delay would negate the whole point of the proceedings).
You (or your representative) must attend all the meetings, conferences, and hearings that the court holds. If you do not, you risk having your case dismissed.
Rather than going straight into the hearing process, the court may direct you to participate in alternative disputes resolution (such as mediation) with the other party (or parties) to discuss the issues and try to resolve the matter.
The court may direct mediation at any time. Those running the sessions will be either:
- a member of the court (eg, an Environment Court Commissioner) as part of its free mediation service, or
- another person (in which case the parties will meet the costs).
The solutions you discuss with the other parties in the case are confidential and will not prejudice the final outcome. This means that if the case goes to a hearing, the Judge or Commissioner will not know what took place during the mediation so this will not affect their final decision. However, parties can agree that if an Environment Court Commissioner is acting as mediator, they can also resume their role in the proceedings if appropriate.
Mediation has high success rates. It is often a very good opportunity to define the issues that concern all parties, and sometimes to resolve differences. It is also generally cheaper and quicker than a hearing, and you do not need to have legal representation at the conferences.
It is an alternative, not a replacement for court adjudication.
Expert conferencing may occur at any stage of a proceeding at the direction of the Court. It is a process in which expert witnesses confer and attempt to reach agreement on issues, or at least to clearly identify the issues on which they cannot agree, and the reasons for that disagreement. Such a conference is a structured discussion amongst peers within a field of expertise which can narrow points of difference and save hearing time (and cost).
The term ‘expert’ means a person who would be recognised by the court as an expert in his or her field by reason of relevant qualifications or experience. Persons not having such qualifications or experience, and counsel and the parties, will not participate in conferences unless specifically directed by the court.
All experts have a duty to ensure that any conference is a genuine dialogue between them with the aim of reaching a common understanding of the relevant facts and issues. An expert conference is a forum in which to seek technical, scientific, and other professional agreements amongst people holding relevant qualifications or experience.
It is not a forum in which compromise or a mediated outcome between the experts is anticipated.
Case tracking system
The court manages the flow of cases through a tracking system. Each track provides the right level of judicial and administrative oversight for a case. The presiding Judge assigns your case to a specific track and a case manager notifies you of this in writing.
There are three tracks:
This management track will include most appeals, non-urgent enforcement, and other miscellaneous cases. In its directions, the court will stress the need to avoid unnecessary court appearances before the final decision and a hearing within six months of commencement.
This applies to more urgent cases – that is, most plan appeals and some resource consent appeals. The essential feature is that cases or sets of related cases will be managed on a customised programme as determined by the presiding Judge.
3. Parties on hold
This track is for when parties are not actively seeking a hearing, for example if they are wanting to negotiate or are to attend mediation.
The court keeps up to date with the progress of a case in several ways, including meetings known as call-overs.
At these ‘housekeeping’ meetings, you have the chance to tell the court about the status of the proceedings. Or, if the parties have reached a settlement, a case can be withdrawn or a consent order finalised.
You can also seek directions in preparing for a hearing, including dealing with preliminary questions, timetables for providing evidence, and the hearing date.
To resolve a case it is important to understand what matters are really in dispute and what matters parties agree on and are not disputing. During the case management stage (after your case has been assigned to a specific track), you may be encouraged to lodge and serve a statement specifying what statements or facts in the council’s or requiring authority’s decision you accept and do not disagree with. If any party is required by another to prove undisputed facts, this will be relevant in fixing an award of costs.
Judicial conferences are similar to call-overs. The court uses them to discuss the key issues of the case, as well as to decide on timetables and other details. Sometimes this is through a conference phone call with all the parties or via audio visual link.
At mediation sessions, call-overs and judicial conferences…
Make sure you understand any instructions about timetables, rules for exchange of evidence, and requirements for translators. It is not easy to change these without good reason and plenty of notice.
You (or your representative), the other parties, or the court can request a pre-hearing conference. These are used to ensure that proper preparations are made for a fair, orderly and efficient hearing. The court may give directions about the resolution of any preliminary issues that may arise, the delivery of statements of evidence, and the time and duration of the hearing.
If you request a conference, you should state what you would like it to consider. Anyone who intends to take part in the hearing should attend or be represented by someone who is familiar with their case.
The court may also direct that parties provide reports on the status of proceedings, to check that they are making progress. This is often used instead of a call-over.
What happens after an appeal is lodged?
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