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Privy Council: Lessons From Australia

Privy Council: Lessons From Australia

"An item in the June issue of the New Zealand Law Journal is highly relevant to the debate on the Privy Council", the executive director of the New Zealand Business Roundtable, Roger Kerr, said today.

"Attorney-General Margaret Wilson has argued that there is no need for a referendum on the Privy Council because neither Australia nor Canada had one when those countries abolished appeals to that court.

In the Law Journal article, respected academic Geoffrey Walker points out, however, that in Australia there was broad public and political consensus in favour of abolishing appeals when the decisions were taken.

"Similarly, in Canada all the major political parties supported the decision to cut ties with the Privy Council.

"There does not appear to be this level of consensus in New Zealand. A major constitutional measure should not be adopted on the same basis as an ordinary bill. That is why many organisations have been saying that a 75 percent vote in parliament or a referendum should be required to establish that a broad consensus for change exists and to ensure the legitimacy of any new court.

"Professor Walker also makes the interesting point that without the oversight of the Privy Council, Australia's High Court went "off the rails" for 15 years in its administration of tort and contract law, at great cost to business and the community.

"Business organisations have been emphasising the value of the Privy Council to New Zealand as an internationally respected authority on commercial issues. Its jurisdiction reduces uncertainty and transactions costs for business, with benefits to investment, growth and the wider community. Many more commercial cases go to the Privy Council than cases involving Maori interests."

Mr Kerr said that in recent weeks, parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee had been seeking the opinions of retired judges and others who had been longstanding advocates of ending Privy Council appeals.

"They have shown scant recognition of the fact that the commercial community is the largest user of the Privy Council's services, and of the point that the issue is a major constitutional one that should demand more than ordinary parliamentary consideration.

"Professor Walker's contribution is a welcome balancing item", Mr Kerr concluded.


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