Mā te ture, anō te ture e aki
By Tim Stephens
The Law Society's Law Reform Committees offer the opportunity to get involved in important work not only for the profession but for society as a whole. Applications to join the committees are now open for members and associate members of the Law Society.
The last 15 months have highlighted the importance of one of the Law Society’s key statutory functions: assisting and promoting law reform for the purpose of upholding the rule of law and facilitating the administration of justice.
During the public health and social crisis created by Covid, societies and their economies around the globe have been impacted in an unprecedented way. In this country, the steps taken by the Government to respond to the pandemic have involved the most significant peacetime restrictions on the daily lives of New Zealanders in our history. The New Zealand public has generally recognised the need for the Government to act quickly and effectively in a public health emergency of this scale.
It is in this environment where the rubber hits the road for the rule of law. Widespread societal consensus and the dampening of the usual partisan political contest were a necessary and important part of unifying to defeat Covid, as they are whenever societies face a common enemy. But they also create the conditions for governments to overstep. And when they do so, it is usually the most disadvantaged in our society that are the most impacted.
It’s the role of lawyers to speak up for the rule of law in this situation, so that governments remain accountable under the law and laws continue to be clear, publicised, stable, and just. At the end of the day, the rule of law is best protected by a cultural predisposition in favour of it. Māori lawyers tend to cite a saying from Te Kooti on this subject: Mā te ture, anō te ture e aki–only the law can be pitted against the law. By advocating for the rule of law when it matters and in the places that matter, lawyers ensure that the rule of law stays a fundamental part of our country’s make-up. Since the early days of the first lockdown, the contribution from the Law Society’s committees and Law Reform and Advocacy team has been immense in this regard, and we were uniquely well placed to make it.
The Law Society’s committees and the Law Reform and Advocacy team have worked hard for many years to produce thoughtful, considered submissions to parliamentary select committees, the Law Commission, and government departments on a huge range of law reform proposals. A great many lawyers give generously of their time to serve on these committees, working to tight timeframes on difficult issues while still meeting the demands of their busy day jobs. We aim to help shape legislation so it is workable and practical and we seek to ensure that law reform proposals respect fundamental constitutional principles.
This is a significant public service. It is also very rewarding. It’s an opportunity to contribute directly to improving our laws, to be involved at the cutting edge of legal developments, and to work with like-minded members of the profession. It is a real privilege to collaborate with a group of such committed and enthusiastic lawyers.
Now others in the profession have a chance to participate–the call has gone out for applications to join the Law Reform Committee and specialist committees for the next two-year term. Information about our law reform work, and how to apply, are on the Law Society’s website, and I encourage you to consider applying. Applications must be submitted by 5pm, Friday 23 July 2021.
Tim Stephens is the convenor of the Law Reform Committee. Tim is a barrister at Stout Street Chambers in Wellington, practising in the areas of commercial, regulatory and public law. He has been in practice since 1995, including time at a leading litigation firm in London, was a partner at Simpson Grierson 2006 to 2016, and joined the independent bar in 2017.
Giving back to the profession
By Neil Russ
Playing a part in a specialist law reform committee is a crucial element of contributing to the development of New Zealand’s laws and regulation in that specialist area.
Over the past two years, the Tax Law Committee has continued to work with practitioners, and key stakeholders, in the development of New Zealand’s tax law. The Committee continues to work proactively on behalf of the profession to ensure robust, pragmatic tax law and administration outcomes, whilst advocating for fair outcomes for the entire New Zealand public.
I strongly believe that an important part of being a lawyer is to give back to the profession, and to society. The Law Society’s specialist law reform committees are a great way to make a meaningful contribution. The Tax Law Committee is the largest, and busiest, of the Law Society’s specialist law reform committees. We encourage and look for diversity in gender, practice area, practice type, firm size and geographical locations. We have some amazing practitioners with varied skill sets.
The Tax Law Committee works in three main ways. We are involved in consultations, submissions and select committee appearances in relation to policy formation and legislation as part of the generic tax policy process. We review and make submissions on technical interpretive matters including public rulings, standard practice statements, interpretation statements and revenue alerts. We liaise with the Commissioner and her senior officials in relation to operational and emerging technical issues. We are also frequently dealing with other important stakeholders in the New Zealand tax community, including CA ANZ and the Corporate Taxpayer Group.
Tax is a complex topic, and tax legislation and tax administration can sometimes have unintended consequences. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Society, CA ANZ and Inland Revenue found new ways of working together, for the benefit of all taxpayers, and it was rewarding to have a role in that.
In terms of time commitment: it is important to keep some balance between committee work and the day job! Fortunately, I have great colleagues at my firm, who are very supportive of my committee involvement. Each of the current members of the tax law committee make a meaningful contribution, and the law reform officers are very supportive and helpful, so that helps a lot. The knowledge and connections gained through tax law committee work is also directly relevant to my practice, and so that is a big benefit to committee membership. I encourage any practitioner to get amongst it with the specialist law reform committees. It is very rewarding.
Neil Russ is the convenor of the Tax Law Committee. Neil specialises in corporate and international tax issues, as well as structured transactions. In addition to his tax expertise Neil has a multi-jurisdictional background in banking and capital markets transactions. He has been a member of the Tax Law Committee since 2003 and was appointed convenor in 2013.
Public & Administrative Law Committee member
“The opportunity to contribute to making better laws for New Zealand is what led me to volunteer on the Public and Administration Law Committee.
I have been lucky enough to work on a variety of submissions including electoral reform, Crown leases, public service legislation and Covid-19 matters. More recently, I had the opportunity to present the Law Society’s submission on the New Zealand Bill of Rights (Declarations of Inconsistency) Amendment Bill – a bill of constitutional significance with a range of rule of law issues.
Legislation does not stand alone – it involves the human dimension of interpretation and sometimes falls short of its intended outcome, or has unintended consequences. I believe that our laws are strengthened when Parliament is provided with a diverse range of views and they can be tested through scrutiny. So if you are keen to play a part in improving the law and want to make a difference, get involved in the Law Society’s law reform work.”
Youth Justice Committee member
“For those of you who do Youth Advocate work, may I commend the Youth Justice Committee to you.
Perhaps the most exciting, important and influential role that we as lawyers can have as a member of the New Zealand Law Society is to be on one of these committees and make comments on draft legislation.
Recently I had the exciting opportunity of appearing before a Select Committee to deliver the Law Society’s submissions on a members bill, which sought to impose a youth justice demerit points system. This was quite opposite to any of the progress that we have seen in the Youth Justice system, particularly arising out of the Family Group Conference process. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how our legislative process works and be in a position to influence decision makers. Appearing before a number of MP’s (albeit via zoom) I could address our key points, answer any questions and ensure the Law Society’s voice was heard. It’s led to a positive outcome with the committee recently recommending the bill not proceed in line with our submission!”
Deputy convenor, Law Reform Committee
“I was recently the lead drafter for the Law Society’s submission on the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Urgent Interim Classification of Publications and Prevention of Online Harm) Amendment Bill. The Bill engages difficult constitutional and human rights issues, but to usefully comment I also had to upskill on the technology behind the internet. The result was a fairly robust submission on some aspects of the Bill and a recommendation that those aspects do not proceed. Because of this, the opportunity arose to present orally before the Select Committee. This was a fascinating clash of the legal and political, and a great experience. It was very rewarding to offer assistance to the members to help them understand the issues and I felt they appreciated that the assistance came from an independent standpoint, as opposed to individuals or organisations who have a specific barrow to push.”