Law Society's vital contribution
As we celebrate 150 years of government located in Wellington, we can also celebrate the valuable role the New Zealand Law Society has played and continues to play in contributing towards the quality of New Zealand's law and administration.
Being a part of this contribution to New Zealand's law is what attracted me to the role of General Manager Law Reform and Sections with the Law Society, an appointment that I took up earlier this year.
The Law Society plays a crucial role in its interaction with all three branches of government: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It plays a vital role in the development of New Zealand law.
The Law Society's involvement in the law reform process is actually required by law. Section 65(e) of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 says it is a regulatory function of the Law Society "to assist and promote, for the purpose of upholding the rule of law and facilitating the administration of justice in New Zealand, the reform of the law".
Our interaction with the executive happens in a number of ways. Law Society representatives and staff regularly meet with Ministers of the Crown to discuss matters of importance to the administration of justice, the rule of law, the profession and New Zealand as a whole.
The Law Society also interacts with the executive as policy is being developed. Our law reform and specialist committees are frequently involved in these early stages. In the year to 30 June we provided responses on 61 discussion documents and three Law Commission papers. This is in addition to the less formal feedback and interactions that we have with policy officials.
Moving to the legislature, when bills are introduced into Parliament the Law Society provides submissions to and appears before select committees.
This is specialist and time consuming work. The Law Society has 16 specialist committees made up of over 150 lawyers from around the country. These committees are supported and administered by Law Society staff.
The Law Society's contribution is appreciated, particularly by those who see it first hand. At the first select committee meeting I attended, one of the MPs talked about how much the select committee valued the input from the Law Society, because it raises important matters for consideration. We often receive requests for submissions on a particular issue and Select Committee members do comment that the Law Society submission is often the one they look at first.
Our submissions on proposed legislation stay away from
party political considerations. The emphasis is on looking at how the policy behind a particular piece of legislation can be implemented, how the legislation can be made to achieve its purpose better and whether there are any administration of justice issues.
This emphasis becomes secondary, however, when the legislation in question may breach a fundamental element of New Zealand's constitution or the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, or may be at odds with upholding the rule of law. In such cases, the Law Society believes it is obliged to draw this breach to the attention of all New Zealanders.
The Law Society regularly liaises with the judiciary, which happens in a number of ways.
This includes meetings with the heads of bench, representation on various judicial committees, including the Rules Committee, as well as contributions to areas from the consideration of proposed reforms to procedural rules in all the courts and judicial resourcing in some of our smaller provincial areas.
And our Courthouse Committee considers issues relating to the operation and design of courthouses and court issues for all users, including the judiciary.
We continue to work closely with the judiciary and Ministry of Justice on implementation issues arising out of the changes to the Family Court system and the Central Processing Unit to help find solutions on operational matters.
When we are invited by the courts we also make submissions on important changes in common law or the application of the law. Recently, for example, the Court of Appeal indicated that it was going to revisit the Clode judgment as to processes which are to be followed where an appellant alleges a miscarriage arising from trial counsel error/incompetency. We were invited to make submissions and appear at this hearing.
There is much that we do that is vital, and provides an important contribution to all three branches of government. It is something that many in the profession and the Law Society are passionate about. It can only happen with the dedication and commitment of those lawyers who are willing to give that extra back to the profession and contribute to the smooth functioning of our justice system.