We make recommendations for reform and development of the law
We review areas of the law of Aotearoa New Zealand that the Minister responsible for the Commission refers to us for review. We then recommend how to improve that law, including how to make it more accessible and easier to understand.
Engagement and consultation are important parts of our law reform reviews. They help us better understand the issues and develop well-considered recommendations to improve the law.
We promote discussion and consultation though a range of methods, including by publishing issues papers and inviting public submissions on them. We take the feedback we receive into account in developing our recommendations for reform.
We publish our recommendations in a report to the Minister, who presents it to Parliament. The Government then decides whether, how and when it will amend the law.
We advise on areas of law for possible review
We also advise our responsible Minister on areas of law for possible future review and reform. To do this, we monitor developments in the law and invite suggestions on areas for reform from the public.
We are independent
The Commission is an independent Crown entity. The Government does not direct how we carry out our work or the recommendations we make.
Our independence allows us to approach each law reform review with an open mind, consider the broader context and advise how to achieve better law for Aotearoa New Zealand.
Most of our work relates to law reform reviews that the Minister responsible for the Law Commission refers to us. In this section, we outline the key features typical of our reviews – although each review is different, reflecting its particular circumstances and the ongoing refinement of our process.
How our law reform reviews come about
Each law reform review focuses on a discrete area of law. We work on several projects at a time.
The Minister responsible for the Law Commission refers law reform reviews to us following consultation with other Ministers. Ideas for reviews might come from government agencies, members of the public, interest groups or the Commission itself.
A project might not start immediately, depending on the stages of the other projects we are working on and the resources we have available. The Minister may require us to prioritise a particular item of work.
Read more about how our work programme is set.
Establishing the review
Early in a project, the project team establishes terms of reference to define the scope of the project.
We set up a dedicated project page on our website and publish the terms of reference on it.
People can subscribe through the website for updates on the project, including alerts about opportunities to have a say when we consult with the public.
Research and expert input
The project team conducts detailed research throughout the course of a project. This research ensures that:
- our terms of reference have the right scope and focus
- we identify and properly assess the right issues (and possible options for reform) on which to consult, and
- our final recommendations for reform rest on solid foundations of evidence and analysis.
When we research an area of law, we look at a wide range of legal and non-legal material, such as:
- the current law and its background
- how the law is applied and experienced in practice
- overseas and international laws and practice
- academic and public commentary
- relevant demographic data.
We usually appoint an advisory group of leading experts with professional experience relevant to the area being reviewed. We also sometimes establish additional advisory groups such as a government officials group, a judicial panel or a lived experience expert advisory group.
Our standing Māori Liaison Committee supports us to take te ao Māori and Māori perspectives into account throughout each project.
Public engagement and submissions
We consult with the public, and with people and organisations with particular experience and knowledge of the law and how it works in practice, such as those who regularly work with the particular law and those who are most affected by it.
How we engage might differ depending on the nature of the project.
We will usually publish one or more issues papers that identify what we see as the key issues (and often possible options for reform) and invite people to give us their views on these by making a submission.
We might also gather feedback in other ways, such as online surveys, webinars or meetings.
Analysis of feedback
We analyse the feedback we have received in submissions and other consultation.
We take this feedback into account in determining what further research to do and what options for reform to explore as we develop our recommendations to improve the law.
Final report or other advice
Typically, we write a final report with our recommendations for reform.
We deliver the report to the Minister, who presents it in Parliament. We also publish the report on our website.
For some projects, we may provide advice in a briefing or other type of paper instead of a final report.
How long law reform reviews take
Our projects typically take several years. How long a project takes will depend on its complexity and scope.
Other types of projects
Sometimes we carry out projects that are different to law reform reviews. In particular, from time to time we publish study papers on specific issues or areas of law. The process for these other projects depends on what the project requires.
At the end of a law reform review, we publish our recommendations for reform in a report, which is presented to Parliament by the Minister.
The Government may accept or reject any or all our recommendations. The Government usually issues a formal response to our report within 120 working days of it being presented to Parliament. The Government may choose not to issue a formal response if it accepts our recommendations.
When we receive a Government response, we publish it on the related project page of our website.
If the Government decides to implement our recommendations, implementation will be led by the government department responsible for the area of law. We are not directly involved in the implementation. However, the Government might request some input from us when preparing legislation.
Changes to the law can take a long time, often years.
Some of our recommendations result in completely new legislation, some in amendments to existing legislation (see how laws are made) and others in operational policy or procedural changes. Some recommendations, even if accepted by the Government, may not be implemented at all.
See a list of implementing measures made in response to our reports.
All laws of Aotearoa New Zealand affect Māori and some laws are of specific importance to Māori.
The Commission is committed to taking te ao Māori and Māori perspectives into account in our work, as required by the Law Commission Act 1985 (section 5(2)(a)).
This includes considering how rights and obligations under te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi should be reflected in the law.
Māori Liaison Committee
We have a standing Māori Liaison Committee that supports us to take Māori perspectives into account in our work.
Committee members draw on their personal expertise and knowledge of tikanga Māori, Māori governance entities and Māori communities to:
- advise us how to engage and consult with Māori
- provide advice and opinion on tikanga and other elements of te ao Māori
- provide advice and opinion on how we frame our proposals and recommendations.
Read the Committee's terms of reference.
The Committee has members drawn from the judiciary, the legal profession, academia and te ao Māori. It may also have advisory members, who, on an ad hoc basis, give advice on projects where they have expertise.
The Committee's current members are:
- Justice Joe Williams (chair)
- Peter Adds
- Tai Ahu
- Jason Ake
- Judge Denise Clark
- Natalie Coates
- Liz Mellish
- Judge Alana Thomas
Examples of our work on Māori legal issues
We consider te ao Māori in all our projects. We have also undertaken some projects specifically on Māori legal issues.
In mid-2023, for example, we completed a project that examined tikanga Māori and its place in Aotearoa New Zealand's legal landscape.
See other examples of our work on Māori legal issues.
Te reo Māori in our workplace
Te reo Māori is the indigenous language of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is an official language of the country and a taonga that is protected by te Tiriti o Waitangi | Treaty of Waitangi. Despite this recognition, te reo Māori remains vulnerable.
Maihi Karauna is the Crown's Strategy for Māori Language Revitalisation 2019-2023. The Strategy recognises the important role that the broader public sector has in the revitalisation of te reo Māori and identifies the public sector as a priority group for implementing the Strategy. As a Crown entity, the Commission participates in these efforts.
Te reo competency within the Commission enhances our effectiveness in meeting our statutory duty and strategic priority of taking te ao Māori into account in our work.
Our law reform reviews
See our current and past law reform reviews.
Our work implemented
See a list of measures that have implemented the recommendations in our reports.
Our vision and values
Our values underpin how we work to achieve our vision.