New Zealand Law Society - Rule of Law Committee

Rule of Law Committee

The Rule of Law Committee monitors and responds to rule of law issues and assists the legal profession in meeting its fundamental obligation to uphold the rule of law (as set out in s4(a) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006). The Committee is involved in monitoring the rule of law in New Zealand and overseas, and its work demonstrates the Law Society’s commitment to the rule of law.

About us

The Rule of Law Committee was established in 2007, following the enactment of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 which recognised upholding the rule of law as a fundamental obligation for lawyers. (The committee’s full terms of reference are set out below.)

The Committee has a primary focus on domestic rule of law concerns but keeps a watching brief on international issues. The committee is aware that in all jurisdictions the maintenance of the rule of law requires awareness and vigilance, and the Committee continues to play its part in that.

Our people

Austin Forbes QC is the convenor of the Committee. A former New Zealand Law Society President, Austin is a Christchurch-based barrister who specialises in commercial and civil litigation. In 1997, he was made a Companion of the Order of New Zealand for services to the legal profession. From 1991 to 1997, Austin was a member of the Law Society Board, serving as vice-president from 1991 to 1993 and President from 1994 to 1997. From 1997 to 2000, he was a member of the executive committee and council of LAWASIA.

The members of the Committee have a wealth of experience in constitutional and public law:

  • Gregor Allan
  • Christopher Griggs
  • Isaac Hikaka
  • Professor Philip Joseph
  • Professor Geoff McLay
  • Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC
  • James Wilding QC

Recent work

In the past 18 months, the Committee and the Law Society have continued to monitor, highlight and debate rule of law issues.

The Committee has also contributed to NZLS submissions on rule of law issues, in relation to the:

  • Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill 2019
  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC 2021) Bill
  • Greater Christchurch Regeneration Amendment Bill
  • Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Bill
  • Covid-19 response: state of national emergency & Level 4 lockdown – rule of law concerns, to Parliament’s Epidemic Response Committee, April 2020
  • Inquiry into the operation of the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, conducted by Parliament’s Finance & Expenditure Committee, June 2020

The Committee is currently working on an NZLS submission on the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill 2021.

Terms of reference

In 2007 the NZLS Board established the Rule of Law Committee, to assist the profession to meet its fundamental obligation to uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand (s4(a) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006). The Board noted that the committee would need to act in a careful, principled, apolitical way. Its members would need to understand constitutional public law issues, the Law Society’s working relationships with the government, and the need to provide the profession with information to assist it to meet its fundamental obligation in relation to the rule of law and administration of justice.

The terms of reference for the Rule of Law Committee are to:

  1. advise and assist the legal profession in meeting the fundamental obligation of lawyers expressed in s 4(a) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006;
  2. promote the continued separation of the legislative, executive and judicial functions of government and, in particular, to promote and protect judicial independence;
  3. monitor and respond to rule of law issues arising from proposals, decisions or actions of the New Zealand government or government agencies;
  4. monitor the mechanisms of government, including constitutional conventions;
  5. maintain a neutral political position;
  6. respond, as appropriate, to requests for advice and assistance from international legal associations on rule of law issues; and
  7. assist the Law Commission in its goal to achieve laws that are just, principled and accessible.
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