New Zealand Law Society - Law Society has serious reservations about emergency response inquiry feasibility

Law Society has serious reservations about emergency response inquiry feasibility

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In response to the Christchurch Earthquakes and the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, the New Zealand Law Society has serious reservations about the feasibility of an inquiry into Parliament's legislative response to future national emergencies.

The inquiry, which is being carried out by the Regulations Review Committee, aims "to provide a framework to legislate the powers necessary for recovery after the lifting of a state of national emergency".

The Law Society says the inquiry's terms of reference, and the issues they give rise to, are unworkably broad for the current inquiry.

The terms of reference encompass a wide variety of emergencies and natural disasters. The interim report refers to 19 different types of emergency plus an omnibus category of undefined or broadly defined emergencies.

Sectoral rather than a generic approach to legislation dealing national emergencies is more appropriate and feasible, Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC said before the select committee hearing. Sir Geoffrey represented the Law Society with James Wilding.

"It would be very difficult for generic legislation to cover the wide range of differing types of emergencies," said Sir Geoffrey.

Delegation of broad powers that intrude on established rights is undesirable, except where justified by the particular circumstances, said James Wilding.

He said the inquiry needs to take into account a range of material. This includes the Law Commission's 1991 Final Report on Emergencies, overseas models, existing legislation such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 and the issues it gave rise to, the Government's proposed new system for the emergency management of buildings, and practical problems with emergency management, which became apparent during the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy.

"In the context of the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy, having governing emergency legislation would have been unlikely to have made a significant difference to the immediate emergency outcome.

"Gains may have been made from there having been better training, including cross-agency, and more resources. None of that is intended to detract from the heroic efforts of many.

"In Christchurch emergency legislation was necessary, and was able to be put in place swiftly. Issues stem from its longevity and the limited review of it and decisions made pursuant to it," Mr Wilding said.

Some communities, for example in the east, are still badly affected. Health and some other long term issues need addressing. Such issues should be identified and responded to at an early stage in a recovery.

The Law Society answered detailed questions on its submission and will provide the committee with further information.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer outlines the Law Society position: A video link is available here for Sir Geoffrey speaking about the Law Society's submission.