16 March 2012
Supreme Court – Appeal of Right to Life
The Supreme Court heard the appeal of Right to Life on the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the 13th March 2012. The
matter was the Judicial Review of the Performance of the Abortion Supervisory Committee. The Court comprised the Right
Hon Justice Sian Elias, presiding, the Hon Justices Blanchard, Tipping, McGrath and Young. These proceedings commenced
in the High Court in Wellington in May 2005.
Leave to appeal was granted in a judgment of the Court dated 26 August
2011 on the following grounds:
(a) Whether the respondent Committee’s functions under ss 14(1)(a),(i) and (k) and 36 of the Contraception,
Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977 empower it to review or scrutinise the decisions of certifying consultants and form
its own view about the lawfulness of their decisions to the extent necessary to perform its functions.
(b) If so, whether there is any evidential foundation for the High Court’s finding that “the approved rates [for
abortions] seems remarkably high, bearing in mind that under s 187(A) [of the Crimes Act 1961] the consultants must form
a good faith opinion that continuance of the pregnancy would result in serious danger to the mother’s health”.
(c) Whether the High Court has jurisdiction to consider whether certifying consultants are obeying the “abortion law”
(as defined) and, if so, whether there is any evidential foundation for the High Court’s finding that “there is reason
to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions authorised by certifying consultants”.
Should the Supreme Court accept the submission of Right to Life and find that the Abortion Supervisory Committee has a
statutory duty and the powers to hold certifying consultants accountable for the abortions that they authorise, it
should result in certifying consultants being required to justify to the Committee the authorisation of the 98 per cent
of abortions on mental health grounds.
Judgment was reserved by the Court and is expected to be delivered within three months.
The counsel for Right to Life were Peter Mckenzie QC, Dr Ian Bassett and Miss Rachel Chan. The counsel for the Abortion
Supervisory Committee were Ms Cheryl Gwyn and Ms W.Aldred of the Crown Law Office.