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No Consensus on Supreme Court Bill

Tuesday, 16 September 2003

No Consensus on Supreme Court Bill

The failure of parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee to reach a broad consensus on the Supreme Court Bill shows why the legislation must be subject to a public referendum, New Zealand Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said today.

"Such an important move should only be made with broad political and public support. The Committee's report suggests that the government only has a bare majority for the Bill, even if United Future supports it. Business organisations have urged United Future, as a party which claims to be pro-business, to oppose the Bill (see letter below).

"The majority of New Zealand cases taken to the Privy Council are commercial ones, yet the government has shown minimal interest in business views. Business operation and economic growth depend on sound and stable institutions, including an independent judiciary with high quality commercial expertise.

"The Privy Council continues to serve New Zealand well, and the government has not shown that a change would result in better administration of law. Though the Committee's report does not say so explicitly, it is crystal clear from reading it that two of the government's arguments for change, the costs of appeals to London and better access to justice, have been exposed as hollow.

"In both Australia and Canada, the governments of the day achieved broad public and political consensus before abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. Such a fundamental constitutional change should only be introduced on the basis of a vote in parliament that is backed by a general referendum.

"In the absence of such a process, a new court would lack democratic legitimacy. Both supporters and opponents of the Supreme Court Bill should therefore press for a referendum," Mr Kerr concluded.

Hon Peter Dunne
Parliamentary Leader
United Future New Zealand

September 4, 2003

Dear Mr Dunne


We are writing to you as representatives of business organisations opposed to the Supreme Court Bill. United Future has made a point of emphasising its pro-growth and pro-business attitudes. We understand your party has not yet taken a position on the Bill.

We are very concerned by the lack of consultation with business on this major constitutional change. The majority of New Zealand cases taken to the Privy Council are commercial ones, yet the government has shown minimal interest in business views.

The Privy Council has proven a powerful protection against inconsistent judicial decision-making. As respected academic Geoffrey Walker noted recently, Australia's High Court went "off the rails" for 15 years in its administration of tort and contract law after the oversight of the Privy Council was removed, at great cost to business and the community.

Business operation and economic growth depend on sound and stable institutions, including an independent judiciary. We fear that the proposed replacement for the Privy Council could easily become stacked with politically appointed judges lacking in commercial expertise.

Unless business and investors have confidence in the quality of administration of the rule of law and the upholding of property rights and contracts, investment and growth will be discouraged.

In both Australia and Canada, the governments of the day achieved broad public and political consensus before abolishing appeals to the Privy Council. It is our view that such a fundamental constitutional change should only be introduced after a majority vote in Parliament backed up by a general referendum.

Reports suggest that the government is anxious to secure the support of United Future as well as the Greens to pass the Bill. In our view, this would still not constitute an adequate threshold of support, and a court established on this basis would lack legitimacy.

We urge your party to vote in the interests of growth and stability and oppose the move to deny New Zealanders access to the Privy Council, unless it is endorsed by a public referendum.

Yours sincerely


Roger Kerr
Executive Director
New Zealand Business Roundtable

Tony St Clair
Chief Executive
Federated Farmers

Simon Carlaw
Chief Executive
Business New Zealand

Diana Pryde
Chief Executive
Institute of Chartered Accountants

Paul Morgan
Executive Deputy Chair
Federation of Maori Authorities

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