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Abolition Of Appeals A Major Constitutional Issue

Abolition Of Appeals To The Privy Council A Major Constitutional Issue

"The introduction of a bill to establish a Supreme Court of New Zealand and abolish appeals to the Privy Council puts a major constitutional issue into the public domain", Roger Kerr, executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, said today.

"At present it seems as though the Bill would, at best, be supported by a bare majority of parliament. Further, there is no evidence of strong public support for change. Much broader support should be required for a major constitutional initiative."

Mr Kerr said that in practice most appeals to the Privy Council are on commercial cases and business sector submissions have been overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the link.

"From a business perspective, 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 quite small; 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 cost of access arguments for abolition are not compelling, at least in respect of commercial cases."

Mr Kerr said that there had been no detailed engagement with the business community about these concerns. Options needed to be explored, such as maintaining access to the Privy Council for commercial cases.

"New Zealand's economic stability and growth is very dependent on confidence in its laws and institutions. It has been criticised for weaknesses in constitutional rules and attitudes that create uncertainty for business. A clear separation of powers is a vital constitutional feature which is not easy to achieve in small countries. For these reasons broad public approval (eg by way of a referendum) and a level of parliamentary support appropriate for constitutional measures should be established before the bill is passed", Mr Kerr concluded.

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