5 July 2013

Results of the annual Rule of Law Index will be explored next week as part of the World Justice Forum at The Hague.

New Zealand has rated among countries showing greatest respect for the rule of law in each year since the World Justice Project began. However a concern for New Zealand is that its ranking slipped markedly last year compared with the two previous Indices (although there were 98 participating jurisdictions last year compared with 66 in the previous year).  Nevertheless the Index summary from last year described New Zealand as standing out  “…as the best performer in the region. Its judicial system is accessible, independent, and effective, and government agencies and courts are efficient and free of corruption….”

Ironically this week’s High Court  judgment on the regulations facilitating the Government’s smoke- free prisons’ policy concluded that the regulations were ultra vires. The regulation making power did not enable a prohibition on smoking and, though the list of prisoner privileges was prescribed by regulation, a privilege could not be taken from that list by regulation.

Because prohibitions on smoking and on the possession of tobacco have now been enacted in remedial legislation, the prohibition on smoking in prisons will continue.  The Court felt that there was need for a declaration that the Regulations were invalid as that may be the only remedy.

The ranking of New Zealand in this year’s Index will perhaps confirm whether aspects of public administration that capture media headlines are indicative of declining standards, or whether, in the international scheme of things, New Zealand remains among the World’s best in maintaining the rule of law.