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Smith: Big business may bypass Supreme Court

Smith: Big business may bypass Supreme Court

There are strong indications that New Zealand's international corporations could be forced to bypass a New Zealand Supreme Court that doesn't include international judges, United Future's justice spokesman Murray Smith said today.

"These major corporations may well find themselves forced by overseas contracting partners into agreeing to legal forums in the United States, Britain or Australia if the Supreme Court Bill doesn't allow for overseas judges," he said.

"It is vital that the select committee takes a good look at these issues.

"If the thinking behind the Bill is to increase New Zealand's judicial sovereignty, then that is hardly going to happen if our Supreme Court is bypassed in our most significant commercial disputes.

"What we will find is that the much sought-after judicial autonomy will fly out the window as our High Court and Court of Appeal are effectively compelled to follow Australian and English decisions involving New Zealand companies.

"Either overseas courts will be interpreting New Zealand law for us, or New Zealand companies will have to abide by overseas laws even though they are trading in New Zealand," Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith said the concern of major business players was raised at the recent Public Law Forum, notably by international corporate lawyer and Fay Richwhite director Evan Williams, who said: "In my judgment, most international parties will choose English or Australian law and courts if we go ahead with an exclusively New Zealand bench. To think otherwise is to fail to recognise how small we are in the eyes of someone from a country 40 or 50 times our size."

Mr Smith said that there would also be concerns over the availability of overseas judges to sit on a New Zealand Supreme Court bench. He intends to explore this issue during a fact-finding trip to Australia in two weeks time.

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