Humans place a value on justice — and being cheated leaves an itch on the soul. Once ripped off, the most common reaction is to walk away, relying on karma. But there is value in pursuing even small injustices and the Disputes Tribunal is an under-used resource.

It hears debts up to $15,000 but although referees should have regard to the law, they are not bound by it and "shall determine the dispute according to the substantial merits and justice of the case."

Most referees are untrained-in-law citizens whose decisions often reflect their own preferences and prejudices as much as the facts at hand. You must take and defend your case without a lawyer.

What matters are the fundamental merits of your case and, crucially, paperwork.


As a liquidator I use the tribunal and the one constant I have found is the value of paperwork. There is little value in being polite, acting professional or dressing well. Many who find themselves in front of a referee have nothing other than their outrage. Passion and indignation carry little weight in front of a dispassionate referee. Large corporates can be compelled to attend.

A weakness of the tribunal is that getting a decision in your favour isn't the same as getting paid. You may still need the court's help to get paid but you can bankrupt a person or liquidate a company based on a tribunal decision. However, the real value is in not accepting injustice handed out by the unscrupulous; an itch on the soul needs to be scratched.