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If not now, when?

30 may 2003

Media Statement:
If not now, when?

The time is right for New Zealand to sever its ties with the Privy Council, Associate Maori Affairs Minister John Tamihere said.

Responding to suggestions that the replacement of the Privy Council as New Zealand's final court of appeal with a New Zealand-based Supreme Court should be delayed, Mr Tamihere said it was time New Zealand stood on its own feet in terms of its legal system.

"If we don't do this now, when do we do it? Do we really want to wait another 10 years, or 20 years, before we can feel confident enough about ourselves as a nation to stand up and say we are perfectly capable of running our own legal system?"

Mr Tamihere said despite claims of "mounting opposition" by Maori to severing ties with the Privy Council, opinion among Maori was divided on the issue, and most urban Maori supported a New Zealand Supreme Court. The Privy Council had not served urban Maori well, he said.

The courts were increasingly being asked to determine matters concerning Maori, and Privy Council law lords had themselves commented on the difficulty in determining matters of tikanga Maori and the Treaty, and understanding the New Zealand context, Mr Tamihere said.

"A New Zealand Supreme Court would be better equipped with that knowledge, or better placed to obtain that knowledge, than English law lords in a court thousands of kilometres away."

The sheer cost of taking a case to England ran into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, making it unaffordable to most people, Mr Tamihere said.

He said that arguments that the Privy Council maintained the historic link between Maori and their treaty partner, the Crown, were anachronistic.

"Maybe in the days when it was Maori link to Queen Victoria it was relevant, but in the days of Queen Elizabeth, the relationship has become merely symbolic. In this day and age, for all practical purposes, 'the Crown' is the Government of New Zealand."

Claims that New Zealand lacked the judicial expertise to support a Supreme Court were also unfounded, Mr Tamihere said. In any case, if expertise in any specific area was found to be lacking in individual cases, the Supreme Court would have the ability to co-opt that expertise internationally.

Mr Tamihere said he had no problem with the Government taking the time necessary to consult properly among both Maori and non-Maori on such an important constitutional change, but it was important that progress on the issue was not stalled.

"If some people want to hang on to the past, and continue clinging to Mother England, that's their problem. Let's debate the issue, but it is important that we do make progress in establishing the foundations for the future of our nation."

ENDS

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