Supreme Work

Supreme Court
A Running Start

The Pro Bono team plunged into its first project of the year soon after the launch, grappling with legal issues concerning the New Zealand Bill of Rights for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. Working to a tight research deadline of a little more than two weeks from start to finish, and squeezing in a meeting with the practitioner, Simon Mount of Bankside Chambers, in between, the relief and fulfilment was almost palpable when the report was finally submitted on 10 April (certainly after several late nights)! We were not only proud in having kept to our schedule, but also very proud in receiving positive feedback from Simon, who was a first-timer in engaging with EJP.

Behind the Scenes

A project of such magnitude required a group of equally committed volunteers. Meilun Chen, Adam Holden, Ian Ko, Andrew McLeod, Andrew McIndoe, Alice Stacey-Jacobs, Maanya Tandon, Tracey Turner, and Sally Wu all delved extensively into authorities from an array of jurisdictions to answer the questions posed. Ian Ko, the Project Leader, greatly aided by Pro Bono Managers Shelley Deng and Gayathiri Ganeshan, collated and edited the final memorandum, which was then presented to Simon.

The Legal and Historical Background

Unlike other courts of final appeal, appellants to the Supreme Court of New Zealand do not have an automatic right of appeal. Leave to appeal must be granted in a prior hearing, generally composed of three Supreme Court justices, who then determine whether it would be ‘necessary in the interests of justice’ for the Court to hear the proposed appeal. Broadly speaking, such leave is given to appeals involving matters of general public or commercial importance, significant issues relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, or where a miscarriage of justice would occur if the appeal were not heard.

Prior to the establishment of the Supreme Court, aggrieved litigants seeking to appeal could only look to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, predominantly made up of senior English judges. Logistically, the distance to and from London translated to expensive and drawn-out cases – this was in the rare circumstances that leave to appeal was given at all! Compounding these difficulties were comments that Lord Justices of Appeal in Ordinary, the most senior English judges, could hardly be taken to understand the cultural values underpinning modern New Zealand society, particularly in regard to our indigenous relations. Not until the issue resurfaced again in 2000, however, was it suggested that a replacement domestic court of final appeal be instituted to hear New Zealand appeals. The Supreme Court Bill, passed by Parliament on 14 October 2003,officially abolished appeals to the Privy Council for all New Zealand court decisions made after 31 December 2003.

The present Supreme Court is now a Court that allows New Zealand litigants, on New Zealand soil, to be assessed by judges who appreciate the complexities of New Zealand culture.