Spotlight on research: Innovative civil justice in Christchurch following the earthquakes

29 November 2017

Senior Lecturer Nina Khouri from the Auckland Law School has researched and published a paper analysing the innovative civil justice process employed by the Christchurch High Court following the city’s earthquakes, which generated hundreds of thousands of insurance claims, many of which were disputed.

Starting in 2010, the Canterbury region was struck by a sequence of over 14,000 earthquakes with the two largest tremors in September 2010 and February 2011.  In addition to loss of life, the property damage to underlying land and buildings was catastrophic.

The New Zealand Government declared a state of emergency; 70,000 people left the city as their homes were uninhabitable, and 1,200 buildings in the central business district had to be demolished due to structural damage.

The New Zealand justice system faced an enormous challenge: how to resolve disputes quickly and at minimal cost but also fairly, to avoid compounding the disaster with injustice? The High Court of New Zealand made a commitment that earthquake-related civil claims would be dealt with as swiftly as the Court’s resources permitted. The result was the establishment of the Christchurch High Court Earthquake List (CEQL) to manage earthquake-related litigation.

Senior Lecturer Nina Khouri’s extensive research describes the List and analyses it by reference to civil justice theory about the relative normative values of public adjudication and private settlement and the dialogic relationship between them.  It then evaluates the List, using statistics available five years on from the earthquakes and by reference to Ms Khouri’s own experiences mediating earthquake disputes.

The paper, which is published in the leading international journal Civil Justice Quarterly, has been endorsed by the Chief High Court Judge as “very well researched and well written.” It has been posted on the High Court’s website as a public resource.   

View Ms Khouri’s research Civil Justice Responses to Natural Disaster: New Zealand’s Christchurch High Court Earthquake List, under Resources at the Courts of New Zealand.

About the academic: Nina Khouri teaches and researches in the field of dispute resolution and civil justice, with a focus on mediation. She is also a mediator specialising in civil and commercial disputes.  A significant component of her recent mediation work has been in Christchurch, resolving insurance and other commercial disputes related to the Canterbury earthquakes