The New Zealand Law Society recommends that Parliament consider changes to its procedures and rules to ensure better public engagement and to enhance the quality of proposed legislation.
The Law Society has presented its submission on the current review of Parliament’s Standing Orders to the Standing Orders select committee.
“The Law Society considers changes need to be made to support proper parliamentary scrutiny of legislation, and to address some long-standing systemic defects in New Zealand’s parliamentary process”, Law Society spokesperson Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC has told the select committee.
“The Law Society supports recent measures to improve the quality of New Zealand’s legislation, but further changes are needed to ensure better public engagement and to strengthen select committee and parliamentary scrutiny of proposed legislation,” Sir Geoffrey says.
The Law Society recommends several key changes, including providing adequate time for the public to make submissions to select committees on Bills and to allow select committees more time to consider Bills and report back to Parliament.
“Select committees in New Zealand provide the scrutiny usually performed by a second parliamentary chamber and are therefore a crucial bastion of our democratic process. Unrealistic deadlines imposed on the select committee process seriously hinder the public’s input into legislation and the proper scrutiny of Bills,” Law Society spokesperson Professor Philip Joseph says.
The Law Society also recommends changes to ensure closer scrutiny of substantive amendments to Bills late in the legislative process, including a requirement for the Attorney General to report on whether amendments are consistent with the Bill of Rights.
“‘Open-government’ mechanisms to engage the public and enhance the quality of legislation should also be encouraged, such as the government proactively making its legislative programme publicly available and circulating exposure drafts of Bills before their introduction,” Professor Joseph says.
The Law Society suggests structural reform be considered, to reduce the legislative backlog in the House and improve the technical scrutiny of legislation.
“The Australian Commonwealth Parliament’s Main Committee provides a useful model of a parallel legislative chamber that has helped to alleviate serious delays in the parliamentary process,” Sir Geoffrey says.