The Commission reviewed the law relating to public inquiries in New Zealand. The central piece of legislation under consideration was the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908, which sets out the overarching framework and powers of commissions of inquiry and royal commissions. The Commission also considered the various other forms of inquiry that are used by Government, from time to time, to investigate events, disasters, procedures and policy, including non-statutory ministerial inquiries. In January 2007, the Commission released an Issues Paper designed to stimulate debate about the purpose of public inquiries. It released a draft Report for public consultation in November 2007 and published its final Report in May 2008. The Inquiries Bill was put before the House of Representatives.
The Commission will review and update the law relating to public inquiries in New Zealand. This review will include inquiries established as Royal Commissions and other commissions established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908, Ministerial inquiries, ad hoc inquiries under specific statutes, and departmental inquiries.
The paper will not look at inquiries conducted by Select Committees, the Ombudsman, Auditor-General or by standing commissions including the Law Commission, Human Rights Commission, Privacy Commission, Health and Disability Commission, Securities Commission and Commerce Commission.
It will also not specifically consider tribunals and other agencies which exercise powers derived from the Commissions of Inquiry Act, except to the extent they will be affected by any suggested changes to that legislation. Examples of these include the Broadcasting Tribunal, Transport Accident Investigation Authority, Maritime Safety Authority and Waitangi Tribunal.
The report will consider in particular the following issues:
- Purpose and role of inquiries;
- The way inquiries are established and their composition;
- Whether the legislation should extend to all public inquiries;
- Procedure at inquiries, including adversarial or inquisitorial approaches and possible standardisation;
- Powers of inquiries, including summonsing witnesses etc and contempt;
- Impact of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 including natural justice requirements;
- Secrecy and impact of the Official Information Act 1982;
- Rules relating to evidence and potential impact of a new Evidence Act;
- Immunities and privileges of commissioners and witnesses;
- Review by the courts, including stating a case;
- Standing of parties / persons interested in the inquiry;
- Role of counsel for parties and counsel assisting;
- Costs and fees;
- Role of Secretariat.
The Commission will produce a draft report for circulation and discussion followed by a
final report and draft legislation.