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Harawira: Council of Law Reporting Amendment Bill

14 March 2006

New Zealand Council of Law Reporting Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Tai Tokerau

Mr Speaker, Maori have an expression which reminds us about matters of reporting, of accountability, of transparency:

Ehara i te mea, he kotahi tangata näna i whakaara te pö It is not the responsibility of only one person to be alert to danger Everyone must share in that responsibility

These issues are at the forefront of our thinking when we look at this Bill, and the importance of reporting major judgements from our Higher Courts - the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Land Valuation Tribunal.

It is not the case of only one person - whether that be the Chief Justice or the Attorney-General - justice for all requires that all have access to justice.

As I said in my last speech (see Judicature Amendment Bill), it's about collective ownership and responsibility.

It is a case of our Lawmakers being held to account by those who design the law, those who implement the law, and those who bear the brunt of the law.

There are three key points the Maori Party wants to raise regarding this Bill.

1 HOW DO MAORI BENEFIT FROM THE LAW REPORTS?

Well, some of my mates will think I'm off my rocker to say there is a strong link between reports of the key judgments of the higher courts of the land, and whanau, hapu and iwi. But wait just one moment!

If you look at the index, you can find 'Maori and Maori land'.

Read further and you will find such topics as alienation, customary Mäori rights, jurisdiction of the Mäori Appellate Court, succession, and the Treaty of Waitangi.

All very relevant to the Maori Party's ability to defend Maori rights, and advance Maori interests, for the benefit of all who live in Aotearoa.

These are critical matters for our history, and our ongoing advancement, and as such, we must do everything we can to ensure the information is accessible, open and transparent.

Our respect for rangatiratanga, our commitment to self-determination, requires that court judgments should be subject to the scrutiny of Maori through being published.

2 ACCESS TO INFORMATION

This brings me to our second issue - access to information.

This Bill is set up to ensure that the law reports assist judges, lawyers, and the public in gaining access to key court judgments.

Gaining access to information should not be just a matter of presenting official reports - in specialist or other publications.

Gaining access to power - which after all comes from information - must be a bit more creative than simply opening up the reports of decisions of the High Court, Court of Appeal and Land valuation Tribunal.

Maori have our own alternative publications which include summaries of these reports, and I want to acknowledge the contribution that the Maori Law Review has played in being a reporter of law affecting Maori since December 1993.

And some in this house would say, well, if all else fails, try google.

I am aware that electronic coverage of New Zealand Law Reports starts from 1958. I am also aware that there is a very active Maori internet presence through news sites such as Nga korero o te wa, Te Putatara, Te Karere Ipurangi and Irirangi.Net, the network of Maori Radio Stations.

But Maori don't have easy access to the internet, because generally, Maori don't own computers, and therefore are not heavy users of the internet.

So I think if this House is really committed to democratic representation, to information disclosure, to accountability, then maybe we need to think a bit wider than the net which doesn't catch any fish.

Fortunately there are ways of Maori being able to access information other than by computer or by published decisions.

I have to be a bit concerned at this sneaky suspicion of 'law by stealth' - which was touched on in the Judicature Bill with the possibility that judgements can be heard in empty courtrooms.

For significant decisions, nothing quite competes with the strength of hearing the views, face to face, kanohi ki te kanohi.

Not over the wire, not in specialist law journals, but actually in person.

A radical idea, but then that's what the Maori Party is known for!

3 QUALITY INFORMATION

The final point I want to raise is simply to reiterate the importance of having open judgments, and a formalised procedure to accurately report the courts decisions.

On this point, we have been interested in arguments from other Members of this House, regarding the development of a statutory monopoly.

We believe in decisions being reported to uphold the critical values of integrity and fairness of the New Zealand Justice System.

We have to ask though about the legitimacy of the Attorney-General chairing the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting - and what effect this might have on blocking any reports of unpopular Supreme Court decisions. We know full well how Ministerial intervention can prevent decisions and reports which they don't like, from every seeing the light of day.

We only have to look at the 'Closing the Gaps' reports that Te Puni Kokiri produced across government that didn't see the light of day, to know that the Bad News doesn't actually make the news. So we raise the issue about the Council's monopoly over publishing the key judgments from New Zealand's higher courts.

Competition can help ensure the provision of quality information - and holding the law-writers to account so that the unpalatable actually sees the light of day. Having access to quality information means we don't have to airbrush the stories to make them into The Good News.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party will support the New Zealand Council of Law Reporting Amendment Bill in the interests of ensuring access to information.

ENDS

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