New Zealand Law Society - Return Canterbury regional government to full democracy, says Law Society

Return Canterbury regional government to full democracy, says Law Society

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Continued partial suspension of regional democracy in Canterbury is inconsistent with core constitutional values, the New Zealand Law Society says.

The Law Society says extending the term of unelected Commissioners on the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury) for a further three years to 2019 is not justified.

And it is significantly concerning that there may still not be a fully elected regional council in place by 2019 – nearly 10 years after Commissioners were first appointed to replace elected councillors, the Law Society says.

In a submission to the Local Government and Environment Committee on the Environment Canterbury (Transitional Governance Arrangements) Bill, the Law Society calls for a return to full democracy for Environment Canterbury, with elections held next year.

"Representative democracy is a fundamental principle that gives legitimacy to government and the exercise of state power," says Law Society Rule of Law Committee convenor Austin Forbes QC.

"Suspension of the democratic right to vote within a region for a significant period could only be justified in exceptional circumstances. The partial suspension of that democratic right for nine-and-a-half years requires particularly compelling justification.

"In the absence of such justification, the Law Society submits that the Bill should not proceed."

The argument that appointed Commissioners need to stay in power to maintain momentum in decision-making is not a robust justification for the continued partial suspension of regional democracy, Mr Forbes says.

"It is not sufficient simply to allude to a hypothetical risk that Environment Canterbury's work may 'stall or lose direction'. If this argument was to be accepted there would never be a return to democracy."

A fully elected council should now be able to deal with the remaining steps required to deal with earthquake recovery and improved freshwater management in Canterbury, he says.


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