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Supreme Court Bill introduced to House

9 December 2002 Media Statement

Supreme Court Bill introduced to House

A Supreme Court of New Zealand Bill has been introduced to the House in line with the key policy decisions announced by the government in April, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson said today.

Having a court of final appeal in New Zealand would mean more people would have access to justice, she said.

“Currently many New Zealanders simply cannot afford to take their case to the Privy Council, but with the final right of appeal in their own country they will be able to exercise their full appeal rights.

“The Privy Council only hears about 11 appeals from New Zealand each year, but the new Supreme Court is expected to hear about five times this number.

“The increases in appeals will not only result from reduced costs but because unlike the Privy Council, the Supreme Court will be able to hear appeals of employment, environment, and family court matters. There will also be more access to justice for New Zealanders wishing to appeal criminal matters as currently it is very rare for the Privy Council to grant them leave to appeal.”

Margaret Wilson said the Bill would be consistent with the Supreme Court model recommended by the Ministerial Advisory Group in its report on the reshaping of the country’s court of appeal structure.

“It provides for an independent Supreme Court sitting above the Court of Appeal with its own judges and separate premises. The Chief Justice, as the head of the New Zealand judiciary, will head the court and normally be the presiding judge. Four other permanent judges will include one judge well-versed in tikanga Maori.”

The Supreme Court would perform the traditional roles of the Privy Council - error correction, clarification and development of the law.

Margaret Wilson said New Zealand was one of the few countries with appeal to the Privy Council.

“Canada abolished all appeals to the Privy Council in1949, South Africa in 1950 and Australia ended all appeals in 1986.”

Questions and Answers

Q. Why establish a Supreme Court in New Zealand when the Privy Council is free?

Having a court of final appeal in this country will improve access to justice for all New Zealanders by

- reducing costs, New Zealanders would not have to pay flight, accommodation and travel costs for a lawyer to represent them on the other side of the world;

- broaden the range of matters able to be considered - for the first time there would be an opportunity for appeals from our specialist courts like the Family Court, the Environment Court and Employment Court;

- improve the understanding of local conditions by judges on New Zealand’s highest court.

We cannot expect the British taxpayer to keep on paying for New Zealand’s highest court forever.

However, the decision to establish our own Supreme Court goes beyond cost. It is about increasing access to justice for all New Zealanders and accepting we have the judicial talent in this country to interpret the law for ourselves.

Q. What countries still have appeal to the Privy Council?

By the end of 2003 New Zealand will be one of only six remaining countries with appeal to the Privy Council - Bahamas, Brunei (civil only), Kiribati, Mauritius and Tuvalu. Currently 10 Caribbean islands are planning to cease the right of appeal next year, in favour of a Caribbean Court Of Justice.

Canada abolished all appeals to the Privy Council in 1949, South Africa in 1950 and Australia ended all appeals in 1986.

Q. Where will a Supreme Court be located?

As the Ministerial Advisory Group recommended, the Supreme Court will be located in Wellington. One option being explored is the former Court building in Balance Street.

The advantages attached to Balance Street option include:

- no need to buy any land

- stand-alone building of considerable historical significance in a centre CBD location

- little difference between restoration costs and fitting out new premises

- saves one of the country’s most important historic buildings of a legal nature

- fits with other buildings in the area - Parliament, High Court, Court of Appeal, District Court, Law School

Q. How much will a Supreme Court cost?

Present estimates put the on-going costs at about $5 million per year which represents about a 1.5 per cent increase in the Department for Courts baseline funding.

In terms of capital costs, these are still to be finalised.

Q. Was the Ministerial Advisory Group asked to comment on the desirability of establishing a Supreme Court?

The Advisory Group was asked to comment on how a Supreme Court of New Zealand would look, and they have done this very well. The legislation is based on their model.

The individual views of group members on removing appeals to the Privy Council are their own.

Q. Do the legal fraternity support removing appeals to the Privy Council?

There has been a lot of positive feedback from the legal sector. There are, of course, some members of the legal fraternity would do not support the idea.

Q. The business community is not happy about removing appeals to the Privy Council. Are these concerns valid?

The concerns are important, but the belief is they are overstated and will ultimately prove to be unfounded.

Some members of the business community believe our own Supreme Court will somehow be out of touch with the rest of the world and this may affect the willingness of foreign business to come here. This is a surprising objection given it did not happen when Australia or Canada removed appeals to the Privy Council and bearing in mind that overseas perspectives will be available to the Supreme Court by counsel introducing relevant material from comparable overseas jurisdictions.

Q. Will this move to establish a Supreme Court bring us closer to becoming a republic?

There is no connection between establishing a court of final appeal in New Zealand and the Republican debate. Canada and Australia both have their own courts of final appeal and they are not Republics.

Q. What public consultation has there been?

The Government released a public discussion paper “Reshaping New Zealand’s Appeal Structure” in December 2000. About 70 submissions from the public were received and considered.

The public will have a further chance to comment once the Supreme Court Bill is referred to select committee and submissions called for.

Q. Were Maori consulted over the proposal?

There has been considerable consultation with Maori. They were consulted widely at the time the discussion paper was released in December 2000 and this consultation has been ongoing.

Q. What will be the appointment process for the Supreme Court?

The guiding principles of appointing Judges will be the same as they are currently i.e. Judges are appointed on merit by way of a transparent process following the application of clear and adequate consultation.

Q. Do we have the appropriate judicial talent in this country to sit on the Supreme Court?

Currently New Zealand judges are called upon to sit on the Privy Council. And increasingly the Privy Council is referring appeals back to this country in recognition of the fact New Zealand judges have the expertise and the local knowledge to make the decisions.

Q. How much will the Judges be paid to sit on the Supreme Court?

Remuneration will be a matter for the Higher Salaries Commission.

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