$100 Million Black Hole

 New Zealand’s hidden legal history

The New Zealand Supreme Court may be the most expensive building in history built to the homage of five lawyers but don’t expect the gratuity to extend to the New Zealand public, let alone the public interest.

Within its $100 Million walls are stored some of the most exceptional legal submissions the New Zealand public may never see. It may require an Act of Parliament to pry the lid off the documentary vault.

Late last month, after weeks of “taking advice”, Supreme Court Registrar Gordon Thatcher issued a letter declaring because “there are no regulations which permit a search of this courts files” he “is unable to make available copies of applications for leave to appeal and the submissions lodged.”

Mr Thatcher’s response was in reply to a request that court documents be provided for publication on a website dedicated to providing an archive of public documents to New Zealand’s highest court. Currently only judgments are provided by the Supreme Court on-line, as well as transcripts to the small percentage of applications which are granted a hearing. Many leave dismissal judgments are less than two pages in length, begging more questions than answers in respect the reasons the Supreme Court judges relied upon in refusing to grant an appeal hearing.

A strong argument is made that it is the public interest for lawyers in particular to be able to see the legal issues being presented to the New Zealand Supreme Court in the absence of cogent reasons for dismissing applications and submissions to it.

Applications for judgment reasons are routinely met with a reply that under section 16 of the Supreme Court Act 2003, the Court “may state reasons briefly, and these may be stated in general terms only.”

The publishers of www.newzealandsupremecourt.co.nz intend to judicially review the Registrar’s decision on the grounds no law expressly providing for access to public records at the Supreme Court does not support a refusal to allow public access to public court documents which underpin the legal fabric which governs our democracy and individual rights at the highest level. That every other court in New Zealand provides access to filed documents underscores the errors in the Registrar’s refusal to do so at the Supreme Court.