By HELEN TUNNAH
An urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing is being sought to question the Government's plans to scrap appeal rights to the Privy Council.
Wairarapa brothers Leonard and Murray Hemi, of Ngati Kahungunu, said the policy to replace access to the London-based Privy Council with appeal rights to a New Zealand Supreme Court had been adopted without proper consultation with Maori.
In their claim they argued that they would suffer "significant and irreversible prejudice" if the Privy Council was dropped without proper debate, which was required under the Treaty of Waitangi.
The Government announced late last year that the Privy Council would be dropped as New Zealand's final appeal court, with legislation introduced to establish a new Supreme Court.
A parliamentary select committee was hearing submissions on the proposals, but the Hemis and their lawyer, Tavake Barron-Afeaki, said there had been too little debate over such a major constitutional change.
The Waitangi Tribunal had been asked to investigate if Maori were prejudiced by the policy, but even if it ruled in favour of the claim, the Government was not bound by its findings.
Mr Barron-Afeaki said the claim centred on the processes that were followed by the Government.
He said the consultation had amounted to little more than four hui, not widely advertised, held about two years ago, which were considered general discussions about restructuring New Zealand's appeal court system.
Although a ministerial advisory group later considered how a proposed Supreme Court should work, its terms of reference did not require a full consideration of how the policy met treaty obligations.
The claim said the Government had failed to act in good faith under the Treaty of Waitangi by not consulting widely on the policy.
It also said the policy removed a fundamental legal protection for Maori, guaranteed under the treaty. Mr Leonard Hemi said the appeal for a tribunal hearing was not prejudging whether Maoridom supported a new Supreme Court.
Instead it was hoped the Government could be persuaded to step back, and consult more widely.
Mr Hemi said the abolition of appeal rights to the Privy Council may be the first step towards New Zealand becoming a republic, and it was important no precedent denying full consultation was set.
The tribunal was expected to rule within two weeks whether an urgent hearing would be held.
If it accepted the claim, it could recommend ways the Government could remedy any lack of consultation or prejudice, but its rulings would not be binding.
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