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Howard's End: Too Much Bad Law

A few years ago the Law Commission made recommendations about what it considered were rough and ready laws which Parliament produced and nothing much changed. So will the politicians now take any notice of the latest Law Commission report over fairness and access to justice in our courts? Maree Howard follows-up on yesterday's column.

Given the Government's coalition difficulties in guaranteeing the passage of legislation through the Parliament under MMP, there is a certain irony in the Law Commission's earlier criticisms of the standard of much legislation coming out of the House.

At the time the Law Commission wrote:

- too much legislation is wrongly focused and fails to address the issue it is meant to;

- some legislation is unnecessary;

- much is hastily introduced with fundamental issues still to be addressed when Bills go to select-committees;

- some is not in accord with accepted constitutional principles;

- much is simply inaccessible or hard to understand.

These are fundamental flaws rather than matters of mere presentation. They reflect the quality of advice that flows from departments on which much law is based.

It might be thought that, unable to press ahead by sheer force of the coalition Executive, the Parliament would be giving deeper consideration to the legislation it does pass. Many expected that Parliament, in those circumstances, would give more time to fine-tuning and tidying up messy legislation on its books.

Yet given the Law Commission's earlier criticisms, confirmed by the current over-load mess the courts have got themselves into in having to interpret legislation in the cases they deal with, it suggests nothing much has changed.

The problems of today were identified as early as 1979 when Sir Geoffrey Palmer said: "New Zealand passes too many laws and it passes them too quickly."

He questioned whether laws were needed as often as the law-makers assumed.

" New Zealanders exhibit an innocent and misplaced faith in the efficacy of legislation... We seem to be addicted to passing legislation for the sake of it, and to believe that legislation can cure our innermost ills," he said.

Yet it still appears the raw material upon which laws are drafted, and the impetus for much legislation, remains flawed.

Parliament still shows a disturbing propensity to contemplate knee-jerk legislation. Parliament must be relevant and able to tackle pressing issues of the day, yet it is odd that legislators can drop everything and spend time to address, say, boy street racers.

I wrote in yesterday's column that some legislation still coming from Parliament has more than 400 Sections, then the sub-sections, clauses, sub-clauses, Schedules and Regulations.

The way the law is written and interpreted in this country suggests too many people simply cannot understand it in order to reasonably comply with it.

The fault clearly rests with Parliament but it's the people who are left to carry the burden of clogged courts, over-worked judges, rising community anger and increasing costs.

When will we learn the lessons of the past and stop wasting public money on yet more reports which will again lay gathering dust on some archive shelf?


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