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Privy Council rug may be pulled

Smith: Privy Council rug may be pulled from under NZ

Matters quite outside of New Zealand's control could impact on any decision as to whether or not the Privy Council remains as New Zealand's final court of appeal, United Future justice spokesman Murray Smith said today.

He said the Supreme Court versus Privy Council debate being conducted in light of the Supreme Court Bill would be further complicated by a threat to the Privy Council itself, which faces the prospect of losing some 60 percent of its caseload over the next few years.

"It may well be that the Privy Council rug is pulled out from under New Zealand's feet, regardless of what we decide on the Supreme Court Bill," Mr Smith, who has just returned from the Commonwealth Law Conference in Melbourne, said.

A number of issues became clear at the conference, he said.

"Firstly, it appears that the Caribbean community (known as the Caricom 10) will set up their own final court within two to three years, and when they do, they will take with them some 40 percent of the cases heard by the Privy Council today.

"Secondly, Britain is considering moving professional disciplinary appeals - a further 20 percent of the Privy Council's work - to its own High Court.

"To some extent this move has been encouraged by the provisions of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights which requires courts to be independent of Parliament, given that the Privy Council is part of the legislature," he said.

Appeals from British territories would likely go the same way, Mr Smith said.

"With something like a 60 percent reduction in its caseload, one would have to look seriously at whether the Privy Council would retain the capacity - including the calibre of judges - to effectively serve New Zealand's needs.

"The Supreme Court versus Privy Council debate is not a straightforward one, and it needs to be looked at very carefully, and with due regard to many issues," he said.

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