“Occasions for defining moments do not arise every day. When they do, we must seize the opportunities they present for improving everyone’s life.” — Richard Pound
Nothing could be truer for the legal profession than that. The law never stands still, and neither does the framework which we live under. Right from when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed in February 1840, New Zealand has led the world in shaping a unique environment which embraces our diversity as a nation. There is also still much work to be done to ensuring we embrace future challenges and take the opportunities they present.
LawTalk September 2022 is all about key legal milestones in Aotearoa New Zealand. Throughout this edition you will read many accounts and points of view on our legal and constitutional development – moments which have made Aotearoa New Zealand unique, and which have shaped the country we live in today.
We are grateful to the many contributors who have provided insights and thoughts on some of those key milestones, as well as stories and lessons about what the future might hold. As you will see, New Zealand punches well above its weight when it comes to seizing opportunities when they arise.
Sir Geoffrey Palmer accounts for the nature in which our legal and constitutional framework has developed and where it might go. As a former Prime Minister, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, he has a unique insight into the substantive changes to significant pieces of legislation which were made in the late 80s. He also proffers some ideas on where we might go next, how we might get there and what future change in New Zealand might lead to.
Equally as interesting are some of the insights from leading academics, practitioners, former Ministers and judges on key legal milestones in their or Aotearoa New Zealand’s legal development. There is plenty to digest and think about. One thing that strikes me is the variation of moments and ideas that have come forward from each of our panellists – testament to the many events we as a country have experienced and by which we have been shaped.
The current Minister of Justice, Hon Kiritapu Allan, provides her view on our development and what might be coming down the pipeline. Recent changes to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 to allow the courts to declare inconsistencies with the Bill of Rights, and require the House of Representatives to essentially confirm the inconsistency in law or make amendments is one of those significant moments in our history which will change the way in which both parliament and the courts interpret and apply the Bill of Rights.
There are also other contributions from outside the legal and political world which showcase important developments. An article on the National Duty Solicitors Scheme and its origins highlights some of the inbuilt, structural inequities that existed at the time. The statistics provided in the article show just how far we have come in terms of providing better access to justice, but also how far we still have to go.
The Law Society itself is undergoing substantial change, and many would say not without time.
The Independent Review consultation that has just closed for submissions is one of those times in our history where we must seize the opportunity. Thank you to the individuals and groups who contributed to the 1,835 survey responses and 157 written submissions, and to the 375 people who attended an online event or in person event. The Independent Review Panel extended the time for submissions past the original closing date, and this provided even more opportunity for the profession to engage.
It is important that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Law Society as the regulator of the profession as well as an advocate for the legal profession. The Independent Review is just one part of that work
The result of this Independent Review will change the way we interact with each other, and with New Zealanders. It will fundamentally shift our guiding legislation and rules and create a system which is more dynamic and focussed on supporting lawyers and the broader community. The final report is due later this year with recommendations set to be delivered to the Minister of Justice in the first half of 2023.
It is important that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Law Society as the regulator of the profession as well as an advocate for the legal profession. The Independent Review is just one part of that work, and the Law Society remains focussed on ensuring we are both a fit-for-now and a fit-for-the-future regulator.
It would be remiss of me to not mention some recent operational changes. It was with sadness that the Board of the New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa received the resignation of CEO Joanna Simon. Ms Simon tendered her resignation in early June and finished at the end of August.
During her tenure, Ms Simon has been responsible for leading an ambitious transformation programme within the organisation, as well as influencing reform throughout the legal profession. She oversaw major projects including managing the Independent Review of the law profession and facilitating an organisation-wide strategy which includes a representative strategy and a regulatory strategy.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Jo for the energy and enthusiasm she has brought to her role at the Law Society during her tenure. She leaves the organisation in far better shape as a result.
This edition of LawTalk is all about defining moments in our history. Many of the opportunities have been seized and we have all benefited. As we look to the next decade, and the period post-pandemic, our job as a profession is to recognise and seize the opportunities to improve access to justice and shape our future to improve everyone’s lives too.