Legal fight to summons children’s minister will continue, with appeal lodged

Oranga Tamariki's Safety in Care report shows 9 per cent of children in its care were harmed in the year ending June 2023. Photo / Jason Oxenham

High-profile Treaty lawyer Annette Sykes has confirmed the legal fight to summons the children’s minister will continue.

The High Court overturned the Waitangi Tribunal’s subpoena to Children’s Minister Karen Chhour.

Chhour plans to remove Treaty obligations in the Oranga Tamariki Act.

A late evening judgment from the High Court overturned the Waitangi Tribunal’s subpoena to Children’s Minister Karen Chhour but that didn’t spell an end to the remarkable rift between the courts and executive.

Annette Sykes, a high-profile Treaty rights activist and lawyer, has confirmed to Stuff that she will be appealing the High Court’s Wednesday night ruling.

But time is ticking for the Tribunal, as Crown Law has indicated Chhour plans to introduce her bill to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act in mid-May. Once Parliament has the bill, the tribunal must cease its investigation into the issue.

The issue concerns Māori children Oranga Tamariki takes into state care. Section 7AA imposes Treaty obligations onto the ministry, which in practice compels it to ensure tamariki Māori in its care remain connected to their whakapapa.

The Government’s plan to remove that obligation has caused widespread concern among iwi Māori, who launched an urgent inquiry at the tribunal and on Monday argued in the High Court that Chhour should be compelled to explain herself.

Children's Minister Karen Chhour. Photo: RNZ

The tribunal will deliver its findings regardless of whether it can hear Chhour’s explanation for her bill.

That fact is a core reason why High Court Judge Andru Isac overturned the tribunal’s summons, and said it could proceed effectively without her.

However, he said the tribunal was entitled to expect a response from the minister on this matter.

“The tribunal cannot be criticised for resorting to a summons in these circumstances, given its repeated and measured requests for the Minister’s response. As a member of the executive Government, she might be expected to demonstrate the same respect,” he said.

Dr Jessica Hutchings (left) is a key speaker at the event alongside Annette Sykes (right).

Sykes had filed an appeal, representing Ngāti Te Rangiunuora, a hapū of Ngāti Pikiao.

She said she was seeking a urgent hearing at the Court of Appeal.

At the High Court, Ngāti Pikiao lawyer Matthew Smith said the section 7AA repeal was motivated by personal belief and political ideology which only Chhour could explain. He said officials, who had given evidence at the Tribunal, could not be expected to explain her thinking given their advice was to keep the Treaty obligations.

Other claimants, including Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Hine, had not decided whether to appeal as of early Thursday morning.

- Stuff