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Maori Party welcomes fresh thinking of Chief Justice Elias

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Co-leader of the Maori Party, Dr Pita Sharples, has welcomed the fresh thinking articulated by Rt Hon Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand, in the Harkness Henry Lecture delivered at Waikato University last month.

"I would recommend her speech to all New Zealanders, as a thoughtful account of the 'fundamentals' required in a constitutional conversation.

"Dame Sian covers a significant history - including Maori self-government in Maori Districts; the impact of the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act which she describes as 'transformative of New Zealand society' and the origins of the status of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as 'foundation law in New Zealand'.

"The Maori Party has been proud to initiate the Constitutional Review as one of our key milestones in the Coalition agreement".

"We welcome the Chief Justice's insights that a constitution needs values to 'speak to the future with optimism'; a leap of faith as indeed the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi represented in 1840".

Dr Sharples also commented on other aspects of the speech that have received attention, including Dame Sian's criticism that proposals which 'seem quite innocent or efficient or pragmatic may trample on basic principle'.

"It is for precisely this reason that our party has called for a review into the entire justice system" said Dr Sharples.

"Take for instance a recent change - the removal of the right for defendants to choose who should represent them (the preferred lawyer regime)".

"Parliament passed law to introduce a change to the effect that legal aid lawyers for category 1 and 2 defence work (offending of a less serious kind) are now assigned to cases on a rotational basis" said Dr Sharples.

"Criminal lawyers and barristers have told us that the new approach works against the interests of whanau, in that lawyers who might well have developed networks and relationships relevant to a particular client are unable to represent them, and instead the offender has the luck of the draw as to who will represent them in court.

"Background knowledge and appreciation of the cultural context of offenders can help to facilitate a more effective representation, leading to more efficient administration of justice in general.

Continuity of legal representation is important - it aids communication, and enables a trusting relationship to be built up between legal counsel and the whanau of the accused".

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