There have been winners arising out of Covid-19: Todd Muller, bespoke hand sanitiser companies, deliver-to-your-door food boxes and Zoom, for example. And there have been losers: companies are reverting back to their old ways of working, shying away from Jacinda Ardern's call for flexibility and a four-day-week. Meanwhile, we hold our breath waiting for an imminent global financial crisis. But what's happened in the legislative landscape that's gone by the wayside?
Samoa has slipped through the cracks, it seems. The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute, the New Zealand Law Society, the South Pacific Lawyers' Association, and the Law Council of Australia have questioned the implication of the Constitution Amendment Bill, the Judicature Bill, and the Lands and Titles Bill, which were tabled just days before the country declared a state of emergency.
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The suite of bills are said to undermine the rule of law by effectively removing the judicial primacy of the Supreme Court, and would empower the Judicial Services Commission to dismiss judges without cause or due process. Essentially the bills propose that the constitutional right of Samoans to seek judicial review of a Land and Titles Court decision be removed, and that the judicial function of Samoa be split into two competing branches.
Adding insult to injury, the changes were considered when the constitutional offices of the Attorney General and Chief Justice were vacant. We forget that Samoa also was in the throes of a measles epidemic just months before Covid-19 came into the picture.
What else did we miss?
The Abortion Legislation bill passed its third reading in late March, amending the law to decriminalise abortion, streamlining the regulation of abortion services with other health services, and modernising the legal framework.
The Taxation (KiwiSaver, Student Loans, and Remedial Matters Bill) passed its third reading, and amends 12 statutes. It aims to improve the administration of the KiwiSaver and student loan schemes.
Parliament passed the Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children) Amendment Bill at the end of May, which prohibits smoking in cars in cars carrying anyone under 18. Those spotted contravening the law could be issued with a $50 fine or warning by police.
Money, money, money
A total of $588,624,387 was owed to the Ministry of Justice in unpaid infringement fines and court-imposed fines as of February 29. Forty-seven per cent of the fines resulted from police infringements. Justice Minister Andrew Little also revealed $579.9 million was owed to the Ministry as of May 1 - $269m were police infringements, and $183.60m was court-imposed fines.
Little has been revealing a lot over the past few months: legal aid debt is at $141.5m was of May 1. The amount owing at July 1 last year was $142.1m. A total of 6599 legal aid applications were approved between October 1 and May 1, 2020. According to a 2018 Access to Justice report by the NZ Bar Association, legal aid eligibility requirements exclude people who earn more than $23,820 per year, and yet the median income in 2017 was $48,880. I didn't know that those who qualify for legal aid are charged interest at 8 per cent a year.
To address obvious access to justice issues, Community Law Centres Aotearoa, the Bar Association, and the Law Society will be delighted to have a Budget funding boost of $7.7m over four years, which will create a clearing house for pro bono services. The NZ Institute for Economic Research found that for every dollar invested in community law services, the public receives $3 to $5 worth of value. The Budget also set aside $163.5m over the following four years to upgrade court buildings, and to improve user experience.
More on the Law Society
The NZ Law Society and Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa came together in February to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, to strengthen and formalise their relationship. The NZ Law Society also welcomed the Pacific Lawyers Association to its council as independent observers.
It's exciting times for the Law Society, which is calling on feedback to its proposed changes to the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Conduct and Client Care) Rules 2008. The proposed changes aim to deliver clear and transparent conduct standards and obligations around discrimination, harassment, bullying and other unacceptable conduct. Watch this space.
In its annual report for the year to 30 June 2019, the Law Society made submissions on 20 Bills before parliament, and produced 60 discussion papers or documents. Since then the society has taken issue with the recent Covid-19 Public Health Response Act, which was passed under urgency. Law Society spokesman Jonathan Orpin-Dowell said the bill should have had public and select committee scrutiny, and it needs additional safeguards.
Movers and shakers
Congratulations are in order for Auckland based lawyer Ana Lenard who took home this year's Ethel Benjamin scholarship. She plans to pursue a Master of Laws at Columbia University focusing on dispute resolution, social justice and legal theory.
Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall welcomed eight relief coroners: Dunedin's Allie Cunninghame; Wellington's Mark Wilton and Mary-Anne Borrowdale; Auckland's Dr Heather McKenzie and Janet Anderson-Bidois; Rotorua's Heidi Wrigley; Whangarei's Alison Mills; and Louella Dunn of Hamilton. Full time appointments are Rotorua's Donna Llewell, Matthew Bates of Hamilton, Rotorua's Bruce Hasketh and Robin Hay of Palmerston North.
Judges have been appointed left, right, and centre: Laurence John Ryan, Christopher John Field, Craig James Thompson, Alexander James Twaddle and Carolyn Henwood have all come out of retirement to become acting district court judges. Joanne Rielly has been appointed a district court judge with jury jurisdiction in Nelson, Melinda Broek has been appointed as a district court judge with Family Court jurisdiction in Rotorua, and Auckland barrister and solicitor Dani Lee Gardiner has been appointed an associate judge of the High Court. Justice Susan Thomas was promoted to Chief High Court Judge, taking over from Chief Judge Justice Geoffrey Venning, and Auckland-based Environment Judge David Kirkpatrick has been appointed as the Principal Environment Judge, taking over from Justice Laurie Newhook.
Defence lawyers have launched the Defence Lawyers Association New Zealand in a bid to fill a gap in the New Zealand legal landscape.
Founded by Christopher Stevenson and Elizabeth Hall, the steering committee also includes Elizabeth Hall, Emily Blincoe, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, Robert Lithgow QC, Marie Dyhrberg QC, Ron Mansfield, Nick Chisnall, Echo Haronga, Rob Stevens, Ngaroma Tahana, Debbie Goodlet, Julia Spelman and Kerry Cook.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission will receive applications for review of convictions and sentences from July. Paula Rose was appointed Deputy Chief Commissioner, alongside Kingi Snelgar, Tangi Utikere, Nigel Hampton QC, Professor Tracey McIntosh, Dr Virginia Hope and Colin Carruthers QC.
And for those feeling left out and wanting their time to shine, nominations are open for the 17th annual New Zealand Law Awards. Winners will be announced in November.