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Campaign For The Privy Council

Campaign For The Privy Council


The Justice and Electoral select committee considering the proposal to replace the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council with a Supreme Court will now have more time to hear submissions. Chairman Tim Barnett has obtained an extension of the date for reporting back to 25 September.


The great majority of submissions to the select committee have been opposed to the abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council. The legal fraternity, business sector, civil liberties groups, Maori, and the general community are largely opposed to the Supreme Court Bill. If the Bill were to be passed, and a Supreme Court created, it is clear that the new court would be lacking in both public confidence and a clear mandate.

The National Party has stated that it will repeal the Supreme Court Act if it is passed. ACT has indicated that it would support National on this if the Bill was passed without a referendum. The Government has for its part ruled out the possibility of a referendum.

The Government should not proceed with this major constitutional reform in such circumstances.


It was something of a surprise that the Attorney General has been quoted as saying that the proposed abolition of the judicial functions of the House of Lords strengthens the case for her Supreme Court. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should not be confused with the House of Lords, since they are quite distinct courts- and have been for over 1,000 years.

The loss of the House of Lord's judicial functions would be a logical conclusion to the Blair Government's continuing reform of that institution. No other court would be affected. The proposed changes are by no means certain to proceed, having already drawn a storm of criticism. Meanwhile the responsibilities of the Privy Council have recently been increased, with appeals relating to the devolved Welsh and Scottish administrations added to its workload. The Gambia has recently restored appeal rights.

It is a concern that the minister who would have responsibility for creating a new Supreme Court, and appointing its first judges, appears to have such poor understanding of existing courts.


The Court of Appeal has recently placed high-profile newspaper advertisements seeking to contact people adversely affected by its erstwhile policy on legal aid grants. This is a timely reminder of the importance of the Privy Council. The Taito case demonstrated the Privy Council's real value to the people of this country, protecting the rights of accused in criminal cases to receive legal aid.


The treaty creating the Caribbean Court of Justice has been signed by the Governments of Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, and Guyana. However the plan to create a Caribbean replacement for the Privy Council must now go to public referenda. It is unlikely that there will be any final decision on the loss of appeal rights within twelve months. As in New Zealand, the proposal to cut links with the Privy Council is politically-motivated, and faces strong opposition from the public and those interested in justice.


The Attorney-General has been relying heavily on fiscal arguments for a local Supreme Court. These arguments has always been weak- the Privy Council costs the Crown nothing, and for most litigants the cost of appeals heard in Wellington are not going to be significantly less than the costs of appeals heard in London. The cost of setting up and operating a Supreme Court will however be significant. Margaret Wilson estimated $10 m to set up the Court, and $5.2 m per year to run it. The operating costs alone are the equivalent of some $100,000 per trial.

This years Budget confirms that the cost of this unnecessary court is going to be even higher than predicted. The finance minister has allocated $21.612 m to set up the court, and $17 m for its first two years operations. The cost to the taxpayer will be significantly greater than originally suggested.

A recent argument put forward by diehard abolitionists is that the Privy Council is likely to be abolished at some stage. This is not only irrelevant but also unlikely in the extreme. However even if the Privy Council were to be abolished in ten years, that is ten more years during which New Zealanders would be able to appeal to the finest court in the world, at no cost to the taxpayer of this country. If Margaret Wilson had her way, and a Supreme Court was our top appeal court, the New Zealand taxpayer would have had to pay $106 m during that period!

The proposed court is financial as well as legal and constitutional folly.

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