The Waitangi Tribunal is not a judicial body

Newsroom reports:

he tribunal is currently investigating the Government’s decision to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which lays out the obligations of the children’s ministry in relation to the Treaty of Waitangi. Last week, the Waitangi Tribunal issued a summons to Minister for Children Karen Chhour when she refused to provide evidence behind the decision to repeal.

While Crown lawyers have said they will seek judicial review of the summons in the High Court, Jones and Seymour have broken rank to openly criticise the tribunal. …

In response, Te Hunga Rōia Māori / Māori Law Society wrote on Wednesday to Luxon and Attorney-General Judith Collins, saying Jones’ comments are likely to have breached Cabinet Manual conventions against influencing or criticising the judiciary.

“These comments are inappropriate and unconstitutional. The Cabinet Manual  provides that ministers must ‘exercise judgement before commenting on matters  before the courts or judicial decisions’ (clause 4.12) and that ‘Ministers should not  express any views that are likely to be publicised if they could be regarded as reflecting  adversely on the impartiality, personal views, or ability of any judge’,” co-presidents Natalie Coates and Tai Ahu wrote in the letter.

“Minister Jones’ comments directly bring into question the performance of the Waitangi  Tribunal, an independent Commission of Inquiry established by legislation that serves  a function akin to a Court and over which a Judge presides. The comments, which are  paired with a threat of executive review of the function and purpose of the Tribunal could also have a chilling effect and reflect adversely on Waitangi Tribunal decisions going forward.”

The Waitangi Tribunal is not a judicial body. In fact it is far from it:

  • Only 5 of the 20 members are even lawyers
  • Members are appointed by the Minister of Maori Affairs, not the Attorney-General
  • Unlike judges who are appointed for life, members are appointed for three years terms – ie they are temporary appointees made by the Government of the day

So criticising the Waitangi Tribunal is not the same as criticising the Maori Land Court. They are different creatures.

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