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Te Ururoa Flavell: Judicature Amendment Bill

Judicature Amendment Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Wednesday 27 August 2008

It is somewhat of an irony, we in the Maori Party reckon, to be considering yet another Bill which presents for debate a set of rules to help determine and assist the practice and procedures of in this case, the High Court.

Earlier in the Order Paper we discussed the development of Code of Responsible Conduct for users and landholders in the context of the Walking Access Bill.

And here we are, debating rules which will facilitate the “expeditious, inexpensive and just despatch of the High Court’s business” through revision of the High Court Rules.

The irony of course is in us of this House debating appropriate codes of conduct, when the majority of members in this House have been unable to sign up to a Code of Desirable Conduct themselves.

The nation has noticed that it was only the Maori Party,  the Greens; ACT and United Future that were prepared to sign up to standards of behaviour; appropriate codes of decorum-which uphold integrity, honour and respect.  

Fourteen months ago these four MMP parties, united to sign a voluntary Code of Conduct and invited other parties to follow suit.  We were concerned that the behaviour of some MPs in the House had for some time created a poor environment for political debate.

Indeed, we are of the view that it is not surprising that the general New Zealand public has such little confidence in politicians when they observe the abusive slanging matches and the level of rudeness that shape the parliamentary chamber.

So it is a little bit rich, we say, to be sitting considering legislation to assist the due administration of justice, when some parties are unprepared to abide by desirable standards of behaviour themselves.

We in the Maori Party were proud to sign up to a Code of Conduct as it is consistent with the standards we have set for ourselves.  The Maori Party is driven by kaupapa Maori, by values and principles which have been passed down from our tupuna – and so the concept of rules which regulate the practice and procedure of the High Court is a concept that we can readily understand. 

We are also pleased to accept recommendations which have come, we understand, from consultation within the sector.  The draft went through a three month consultation process I note, which especially targeted the NZ Law Society, the district law societies and NZ Bar Association. 

We would presume if anyone could understand the significance of the revised rules, it would be these groups.

And yet, here’s the thing.

The Law Commission report states that pending wider constitutional discussions to consider a more just relationship between tikanga Maori and Western law, that the law could be more bi-cultural. 

Mr Speaker, in this Bill, we have a whole heap of amendments to make the justice system, and therefore the court, more accessible.  This, in itself, is a response to the Law Commission’s 2004 report,Delivering Justice for All – a vision for NZ Courts and Tribunals.

But is it Justice for All? 

How are the views of tangata whenua, of Maori legal experts, of whanau, hapu and iwi, incorporated in this Bill – or is the assumption that the only ones interested in the procedures of the High court are the judiciary and legal professionals?

Mr Speaker, successive governments have sidelined constitutional discussions and failed to take up the opportunity to entrench the Treaty in legislation.

Tangata whenua have frequently raised the issue, that the very structure of the court system pays inadequate respect to Mäori tradition and is insensitive to our needs.

Too many Mäori simply do not feel the justice system can be relied on to deliver justice to them.

Twenty years ago, Moana Jackson’s groundbreaking report,He Whaipaanga Hou – a new perspective, described the issue of Maori responsiveness in particular reference to the courts. 

That report stated, and I quote:

Of all our institutions, the courts are probably the most determinedly mono-cultural.  The trappings of horsehair and silk, the ritual of procedure and the very language of the law, are obvious illustrations of their essentially English origins.

They are seen to deny real Maori access to justice, to effectively exclude defendants’ whanau from the process, to favour Pakeha who have power and status, and to be culturally biased in the presentation and disposition of cases.  

Fortunately some things have changed dramatically over the two decades, to improve access to justice for all.

The traditional bleached horsehair wigs have been out of sight since they were abolished in 1996 I am told.

The language of the law, has with this Bill today, come around – and we not only welcome plain, simple English, but also of course, te reo rangatira, the language of other peoples, and sign language.

We are pleased to see recommendation 100 is taken up – where attention is paid to clarity and simplicity of language; and to proportionality of procedure.

The complex and prescriptive rules, as they previously stood, acted against due access to justice – and so it is very positive to see that we now have rules which make plain sense.

We in the Maori Party have always supported any moves to create a system that is more responsive to, and effective for, all New Zealanders; and plain language is a pretty good place to start.

We support the focus seen in part three of the Bill relating to the use of Maori language, translations and sign language in any proceedings, conferences or hearings.

There is also consideration within the rules to enable the translation of documents into te reo Māori; and indeed there is provision for an affidavit in any other language other than English to be filed in a proceeding.

Mr Speaker there are still unresolved issues as set out so clearly in that statement from He Whaipaanga Hou.

Mäori have spoken about the desire to incorporate key Mäori cultural practices in the courts, such as the ability of whänau to speak in court and to support victims and defendants in culturally appropriate ways.

There has been ongoing emphasis placed on the capacity to put culturally relevant factors before the court.

And there has been a strong desire to move the court experience away from a process focus towards making court appearances meaningful and resolution-based including community involvement.

Mr Speaker, this Bill – like any other Bill – could have been an opportunity to do something about these concerns.  It hasn’t, again.

We will support this Bill, because we agree with the principal focus of the revision to this legislation, being to enhance accessibility of rules to all court users.

We support easier to understand language; we support the pragmatic changes such as rules to enable electronic filing of documents and we support the overall concept that court procedures must be simplified and costs minimized.

But we remain of the view that there is still much to be done in enhancing access to justice for all.

Ends

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