The Government Administration Committee has examined the Inquiries Bill and recommends that it be passed with the amendments shown.
The aim of the bill is to reform and modernise the law relating to inquiries, by
providing for the establishment of both public and government inquiries to inquire into matters of public importance
recognising and providing for Royal commissions appointed under the Royal prerogative
enabling public inquiries, government inquiries, and Royal commissions to be carried out effectively, efficiently, and fairly.
This bill amends the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908 by repealing section 2 of the 1908 Act, which provides for the appointment of commissions of inquiry, and section 15, which relates to Royal commissions. The remaining provisions of the 1908 Act would apply only in the circumstances specified in clause 39(2).
This commentary does not address the minor, technical, and consequential amendments proposed by the bill.
Clause 8 specifies the circumstances in which the Governor-General or appointing Minister may remove a member of an inquiry from office. We recommend that clause 8(3)(a) be amended so that an inquiry member could be removed from office for misconduct, rather than for being found guilty of misconduct.
We recommend that clause 15(1)(a)(iii) be amended so that an inquiry could suppress the name or other particulars likely to lead to the identification of a witness or other person participating in the inquiry. This amendment would have the effect of widening the clause as introduced, so that people participating in an inquiry who were not witnesses would be protected if it was appropriate for their interests.
We recommend that clause 28(1) be amended so it would apply to witnesses and other persons participating in an inquiry. This would allow witnesses as well as other persons in an inquiry to have the same immunities and privileges as if they were appearing in civil proceedings, such as those set out in subpart 8 of Part 2 of the Evidence Act 2006.
Clause 29 would allow an inquiry to make an award of costs against any person participating in or summoned to appear before the inquiry, if it was satisfied that the person had unduly lengthened or obstructed the inquiry or incurred undue costs to the inquiry. We recommend that clause 29 be amended by inserting two further subsections. New subsection (5) would allow a right of appeal to the High Court against cost orders imposed on a person by an inquiry. New subsection (6) provides that there is no right of appeal from the decision of the High Court. This would prevent the additional costs and delays involved in a sequence of appeals.
The recommended amendments to clause 15(1)(a) would allow an inquiry to forbid publication of any evidence or submissions presented to the inquiry, any report or account of the evidence or submissions, the name or other particulars likely to lead to the identification of a witness or other person participating in the inquiry, and any rulings of the inquiry. In the bill as introduced clause 33(2) provides only that submissions and evidence suppressed under clause 15(1)(a) are deemed not to be official information. We recommend that clause 33(2) be amended to provide that all matters suppressed under clause 15(1)(a) are deemed not to be official information.
Clause 34 provides that an inquiry is a public office for the purpose of the Public Records Act. We recommend that clause 34 be amended to reflect the process that applies to the transfer of records under the Public Records Act. The proposed amendment would also clarify that for the purposes of Part 3 of the Public Records Act the access status of the public records is transferred to the control of the Chief Archivist and that the relevant department must take into account any order made by the inquiry under clause 15(1).
The Inquiries Bill was referred to the committee on 28 July 2009. The closing date for submissions was 18 September 2009. We received and considered one submission from the New Zealand Law Society.
We received advice from the Department of Internal Affairs.
Hon David Parker (Chairperson)
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi