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Privy Council Debate Unchanged

"The government's proposal to establish a Supreme Court to replace the Privy Council does not materially change the debate from a commercial sector perspective", Roger Kerr, executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, said today.

"Most appeals to the Privy Council are on commercial cases and business sector representations to the government have been overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the link.

"The Privy Council is an excellent court; it continues to correct poor Court of Appeal decisions; there is still limited commercial expertise in the higher reaches of the New Zealand judiciary and the talent pool for top judges is much smaller; New Zealand benefits from the detachment of the Privy Council and the global connectedness it offers; the chances of political influence over the judiciary and of judicial activism would both be increased without the anchor of the Privy Council; and the sovereignty and access arguments for abolition are not compelling, at least in respect of commercial cases.

"The advisory group's report does not address these basic issues. The group's task was merely to consider the best model for a final New Zealand appeal court, not to weigh up the merits of retaining or abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. Its preferred option of a Supreme Court is essentially a variant of the three options that did not find favour in the earlier round of consultations and suffers from similar problems, including higher costs to the taxpayer.

"Attention should now return to the basic issue of whether a final domestic court would be superior in practice to the Privy Council. In addition, the current level of dissatisfaction with MMP should be a warning that a major constitutional change such as a change to New Zealand's final court should not be embarked on without broad public and political support. At present both these requirements, as well as support from major users of the Privy Council, appear to be lacking.

"Practical and constitutional issues should be to the fore if legislation to abolish appeals to the Privy Council is put before parliament", Mr Kerr concluded.


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