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Select Committee News


Select Committee News

Tim Barnett, the chairman of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, has suggested that there should be the opportunity for further public submissions. The committee is however currently due to report back to Parliament by 25 September 2003.

Any individuals or organizations which have not yet been heard should promptly seek the opportunity to make an oral submission. The committee has shown a commendable willingness to make itself available for hearings; however time is running out.

CONTINUINING INTEREST IN SUPREME COURT BILL

The Maori Legal Forum in Wellington on 18th and 19th August will consider the implications of the Supreme Court Bill. The proposed abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council has already been considered at several conferences and hui. National Radio has also run several debates between supporters and opponents of the Supreme Court. Whilst the fate of the Privy Council was never going to capture the public imagination, interest is widespread, and opposition to the Bill is strengthening.

NEWS MEDIA OUT OF TOUCH?

The great majority of submissions to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee have been opposed to the abolition of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. So why have the majority of people interviewed in the daily newspapers been opponents of the Privy Council. Could the press be trying to influence public opinion?

The bias of elements in the news media has also been illustrated by their collective failure to identify the mistake by the Attorney-General (and their own journalists) in regarding the proposed reforms of the House of Lords as presaging the end of the Privy Council itself. They have been separate bodies for just on 1,000 years.. There is no suggestion in Britain that the Privy Council, or any other courts, are under threat. This is purely an invention of its opponents in New Zealand. The Privy Council is in fact as busy as it has ever been, and has an increasing workload.

QUEEN'S COUNSEL THREATENED

The new Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill was introduced into Parliament on 24 June. It was expected that the office of Queen's Counsel would be renamed Senior Counsel. However the Bill goes further than this. Clause 106(1) provides that "No person may be appointed as a Queen's Counsel or King's Counsel for New Zealand; and the prerogative right or power of the Crown to appoint persons as Queen's Counsel or King's Counsel for New Zealand ceases to have effect as part of the law of New Zealand." The Government does not propose to rename Queen's Counsel, but to ban them! The new office of Senior Counsel, which would replace QC's, is found only in Belize, South Africa, Hong Kong, and parts of Australia, and not recognized elsewhere.

Oddly the President of the NZLS, Christine Grice, welcomed the Bill with the comment that it will preserve all the essential and distinctive features of the legal profession.

To judge from reports from the latest Queen's Counsel appointment ceremony, it appears that the Attorney-General's supporters are now trying to establish a link between abolition of the Privy Council and Queen's Counsel. The suggestion is that Queen's Counsel must be banned because appeals to the Privy Council are to be cut. This is a somewhat disingenuous argument. The two matters are totally distinct- one can be kept without the other- and the fate of the Privy Council has not yet been determined. The only connection is the royal style- which is presumably why Margaret Wilson wants to abolish both.

Contrary to suggestions, New Zealand would not be out-of-step if it were to abolish appeals to the Privy Council but retain QC's. Although both Canada and Australia are amongst the comparatively few countries to have ended appeals to the Privy Council, both retain QC's. If the new Lawyers and Conveyancers Bill is passed unchanged, and QC's are banned, it would be New Zealand that would be out-of-step with 30 or so other Common Law jurisdictions.

Let common sense prevail, and stop this doctrinaire republicanism-by-stealth. The abolition of QC's is as much a calculated destruction of our legal system as is the cutting of appeals to the Privy Council.

John Cox

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