Supreme Court Bill To Go To Second Reading Today

Published: Tue 7 Oct 2003 10:55 AM
Supreme Court Bill To Go To Second Reading Today
The Supreme Court Bill was scheduled to be read a second time on Thursday 18th September. Due to the debate on the GE legislation overrunning, there was insufficient time for the Bill to be considered on that day, and it was rescheduled for today 7th October 2003.
The attitude of both United Future and the Maori caucus of the Labour Party are particularly crucial if the Bill is to be stopped. The Greens have allied themselves with the supporters of the Bill, despite concerns expressed by some within that party.
The attitude of United Future to the proposed abolition of appeals to the Privy Council is a serious disappointment. The Supreme Court Bill is intended to implement a major constitutional change, and requires serious debate, and ultimately consensus (or something close to it) before it can proceed. Alternatively it should be endorsed by referendum.
Yet it appears likely that the Bill will be passed by a bare majority in Parliament. It is clear that many Labour Party MP's, not least its Maori caucus, have serious reservations about the Bill. Under MMP their votes will however be deemed to be cast in favour of it, whatever they may personally think. It is possible that a majority of MP's are actually against the Bill. The Opposition has achieved rare unanimity in opposing the legislation.
If the Supreme Court Bill is passed it would be a constitutional outrage: This is not the way that constitutional reform should occur. United Future must accept that their responsibility lies to the country, and not to the Government.
Apparently United Future believes that it can obtain concessions from the Government in return for supporting the Supreme Court Bill. However it is clear that the Government is not prepared to make any real changes to the legislation. If United Future does support the Bill today it will be abandoning its principles. The party opposed the introduction of the Bill, and its pro-business policies and support for constitutional principles and good government should make support for the Bill anathema.
There is no present or foreseeable reason for ending appeals to the Privy Council. The major users of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council- the business community, local government, and Maori, together with lawyers, all oppose the Supreme Court. The un-costed additional expenses associated with the new court are unclear, but are likely to be something over $106 m in the next ten years. The National Party has committed itself to reversing the proposed reform when it is next in Government.
The United Future party should not support legislation that is not needed; not wanted; a waste of taxpayer money; likely to be overturned on the next change of Government; and would be a Constitutional abomination if passed by a bare minority in the teeth of major opposition.
I urge you all to lobby today your Member of Parliament, of whatever party, to remind them of the level of opposition to this Bill.
The former President of the Court of Appeal, Lord Cooke, has dismissed lawyers opposition to the abolition of appeals. Lord Cooke is reported as saying that "many have not really thought through this problem or have had very little first hand experience of the kind of litigation which will reach the Supreme Court". He also stated that "bodies like the New Zealand Law Society have a long tradition of conservatism. It would be too much to say that they are obstructive, but they are not normally creative in their approach to problems". It is a matter of considerable regret that New Zealand's most eminent jurist has dismissed opposition in such a cavalier manner.
Ironically the NZLS took a very moderate view to the Supreme Court Bill, neither supporting nor opposing it. It has been left to the district societies and ordinary members to express their reasoned and logical opposition to the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council.
The major users of the Privy Council are all strongly opposed to the new Supreme Court. The public is not noticeably in favour of a new court, and there are far more people actively opposed to the Bill than publicly supporting it.
The minimal consultation undertaken thus far suggests that the Government will have major difficulty persuading people that the Supreme Court is a good idea. In 2000/2001 64 submissions were made to the Justice and Electoral select committee in response to the discussion paper on ending appeals to the Privy Council. They were split 50/50 between supporters and opponents of the Privy Council. The committee determined that appeals to the Privy Council should continue. The same committee, under the same chairman, received 312 written submissions on the Supreme Court Bill this year. These were split 54/40 in favour of appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council continuing. Oral submissions were 75% in favour of retaining appeals. Yet despite the hardening of opposition the Government majority on the committee this time chose to endorse the Supreme Court Bill. Understandably they did not support the idea of a public referendum.
It remains to be seen whether public opposition can force the Government to re-consider proceeding with this controversial reform.

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