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Hon Phil Goff Crown Organisations Bill Speech

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Speech Notes

3 May 2001


I move that the Crown Organisations (Criminal Liability) Bill now be read for a first time.

The Bill finally implements the outstanding recommendations of Judge Noble’s report into the Cave Creek tragedy.

Judge Noble recommended the removal of the exemption from prosecution given to Government departments and other Crown – related organisations for offences under the Building Act 1991 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992.

For four years the last Government failed to act on his recommendation. This Bill brings to an end the unacceptable delay in implementing that recommendation.

There is no justification for Government exempting itself from prosecution when if any other New Zealander or New Zealand business broke those laws they would be prosecuted.

The Building Act and the Health and Safety in Employment Act are designed to protect people from injury or death.

The risk of prosecution creates for government the incentive to comply with this legislation. It allows the Government to be held accountable in exactly the same way as the private section. It upholds the principle of equality under the law.

The Bill further includes a new offence to the Building Act 1991, also recommended by the Noble Report. This offence is to use or allow to be used any structure or other building that is for public use if a building consent is required but has not been obtained or if no code compliance certificate has been issued.

This Bill marks a significant change in the longstanding principle that the Crown is immune from criminal prosecution. The amendments establish a policy precedent for Crown criminal liability.

While Government departments and other Crown-related organisations have been required to comply with both pieces of legislation since their enactment, it has not been possible to prosecute these organisations for offences under either Act.

The aim of this Bill is to provide incentives for Crown organisations to avoid instances of systemic failure, which can result in tragedies like Cave Creek.

If Crown organisations are found to be committing offences under either of these pieces of legislation, they will, like private sector corporate bodies, be subject to prosecution.

If they are convicted, the court will have the power to fine them, make an order for reparation against them, or order them to pay the fine to the victim.
The Bill is divided into two parts.

Part One of the Bill sets out a general framework which will enable the Crown in the form of Government departments, and other Crown organisations to be prosecuted under the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the Building Act.

Part Two contains amendments to a number of existing Acts which are necessary to implement the proposal.

More specifically, Part One provides that Crown organisations that breach either Act will be prosecuted in their own name, and if they are convicted they will pay any fines, or orders of reparation out of their own budgets.

A Crown organisation that is charged with an offence will generally have the same rights and privileges, in relation to the hearing and determination of an offence, as a body corporate charged with an offence of the same kind.

Clause 10 however, provides that no person can claim the privilege against self-incrimination on behalf of a Crown organisation. The effect otherwise could have been to lessen the requirement of accountability of public organisations in terms of disclosure of information under the Official Information Act.

It should be noted that this provision does not affect the right of an individual within a Crown organisation to claim the privilege.

Part Two of the Bill comprises amendments to the Building Act 1991 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1991 to remove the Crown’s current exemption from prosecution.

Part Two also comprises amendments to the Costs and Criminal Cases Act 1967, the Criminal Justice Act 1985, and the Summary Proceedings Act 1957, which are required for the operation of the legislation.

It is timely that this legislation should be introduced now, as April 28th this year marked the sixth anniversary of the Cave Creek tragedy.

It has been a long six years for the families of those who lost their lives at Cave Creek. Hopefully, this legislation will be a further step towards allowing them to put the trauma of this tragedy behind them.

In conclusion this Bill has two main objectives.

Firstly, it is designed to protect society and the individual from harm or danger arising from actions of the Crown by ensuring that there are mechanisms to hold the Crown responsible and accountable for its actions.

Secondly, it meets the principle that the Crown should, in general, be subject to the law and to the same legal processes as anyone else.

I am confident that this legislation will ensure that there is greater accountability of Crown organisations, and that it will help prevent another Cave Creek tragedy from occurring.
I intend to move that the Bill be referred to the Law and Order Committee for consideration.

I also intend to move that the Law and Order Committee be instructed to report to the House by 30 0ctober this year.

I commend the bill to the House.


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