The Law Commission is delighted with the announcement by the Prime Minister of significant steps to improve Government processes when considering Law Commission reports and sees this as a most welcome 21st birthday present.
Law Commission President, Sir Geoffrey Palmer said Ã¢â‚¬Å“that after our 20th anniversary seminar last year representations to the Government have resulted in this new regime, and the Government has delivered on every frontÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Speaking at the launch of the book, Reflections of the New Zealand Law Commission, Papers from the 20th Anniversary Seminar, Prime Minister Helen Clark said she believed the proposed changes would Ã¢â‚¬Å“give the Law Commission a new lease on life and sense of purpose.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂAs Prime Minister, I am known as one who keeps an eye on progress across a wide range of government activities. Sometimes, it is a question of co-ordination. Sometimes it is a question of arbitrating between competing views. On other occasions, it is discovering an issue which simply never comes into view for busy ministers. All three issues have arisen with Law Commission reports.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂIn late 2005, in discussion with the Rt Hon Justice Blanchard of the Supreme Court, at a Parliamentary reception, I learned that as a Law Commissioner years before, he had been in charge of a large project to reform the Property Law Act. I was surprised to learn that nothing had ever been done with his report after it had gone to the government in June 1994, eleven years before! I then made some enquires of the Law Commission, and found that there were rather a lot of Law Commission reports which had suffered similar neglect.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂThis did not seem to me to be a satisfactory state of affairs. In fact, I found it rather shocking! So I became determined to set it right. In my 2006 Prime MinisterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Statement to Parliament, I said that the government would "give priority to law reform proposals already received from the Law Commission, which update key statutes, for example in the property law area.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂOur Law Commissioners are invariably highly experienced and eminent lawyers, and thus well qualified to provide advice on reform of our statute law. So why was there so often a deafening silence? My enquiries revealed that this was not merely a problem in New Zealand; it was actually a problem everywhere Law Commissions exist.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂIt was clear to me that the way New Zealand governments handled Law Commission reports had to change, as it was a waste of valuable time and resources to go on the way we had over the last twenty years. I became a champion of change, and Cabinet has now agreed to a new system for government references to the Commission, which will ensure Law Commission reports get prompt consideration by ministers,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ms Clark.
The new system for government references to the Law Commission from now on is as follows:
projects for the Law Commission can be proposed by any minister each year the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission will present a Cabinet Paper putting forward the projects supported by portfolio ministers, including their resource implications if Cabinet approves a project, departmental resources will be made available for close collaboration during the life of the project, so that officials are kept in touch with developments and can provide advice on it.
This will stop the problem of long delays after a project is finished before it can be considered by the government where consensus cannot be reached and differences of opinion remain, these will be clearly identified and discussed after the Law Commission has completed its recommendations, it will give a report to the relevant ministers and seek his or her initial views a draft Cabinet Paper will be promptly prepared, reflecting the views of the minister and all the other relevant agencies and incorporating split recommendations where there is no consensus unless the minister otherwise directs, the Law Commission will prepare the draft Cabinet paper on the portfolio ministerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s behalf once the minister is satisfied with the draft Cabinet Paper, he or she will present the paper to Cabinet to seek approval for the recommendations to the extent that he or she considers appropriate if Cabinet accepts the recommendations, it will invite either the minister or the Law Commission to issue drafting instructions to Parliamentary Counsel Office.
There will be no further need for a government response the bill which ensues will be introduced in the normal way in the name of a portfolio minister; if the Cabinet rejects the recommendations, the government will continue to be required to formally respond as at present, by way of a paper presented to the House of Representatives within six months of the publication of the Law CommissionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s report.
Ms Clark said that as the Law CommissionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s independence is critical for high quality law reform, it will continue to be able to present reports on self-referred projects, with a government response required within six months. That response may take the form of a bill which receives its first reading within the required period.
Ã¢â‚¬ÂThe changes I am announcing today (Tues 24 July) will make an enormous difference to government decision-making on Law Commission reports. In essence they will ensure that law reform proposals are considered in a timely fashion, and in general should result in legislation being introduced expeditiouslyÃ¢â‚¬Â.
Sharon Bennett, Executive Director of LexisNexis and publishers of the book on the 20th anniversary seminar proceedings said Ã¢â‚¬Å“it is particularly pleasing for LexisNexis to have played a positive role in improving New ZealandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s law reform regimeÃ¢â‚¬Â.