National | Waitangi Tribunal

Waitangi Tribunal: Court of Appeal reverses High Court decision - will Chhour testify?

A Court of Appeal reversal of a High Court decision to block the Waitangi Tribunal’s summons of Karen Chhour probably won’t result in her appearance before the tribunal.

The decision was released today, the same day the coalition government introduced a bill in Parliament to repeal section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which gives the agency Treaty of Waitangi obligations.

Because the bill is now before the House, the tribunal no longer holds jurisdiction over the case, meaning it now lacks the authority to issue a subsequent summons to the minister until the bill has left the House.

In its verdict, the Court of Appeal recognised the critical role of the Waitangi Tribunal in examining legislation for consistency with Treaty of Waitangi principles.

It also noted that Children’s Minister Chhour had pertinent information for the tribunal, countering the High Court’s application of the comity principle, which emphasises mutual legal respect, in this context.

In a statement to media, Ngāti Pikiao, the initial iwi which launched the appeal, called the judgment “an important re-emphasis of the fundamental significance of Te Tiriti, the rule of law and the Waitangi Tribunal to Aotearoa New Zealand: the minister is not above the law, and she has very important legal obligations to discharge as a Tiriti partner”.

Despite the reversal, it is unlikely that Chhour would need to testify, given the tribunal had already issued a report and received her written responses to their inquiries.

The tribunal’s final report, published last week, highlighted significant violations of Māori rights to self-determination and the principles of partnership and active protection under the Treaty.

It criticised the hasty and arbitrary repeal of the act’s section as prejudicial.

Labour responds

Hastiness was also top of mind for Labour’s acting children’s spokesperson, Carmel Sepuloni,, who responded to the introduction of the repeal section 7AA repeal bill.

“The government’s refusal to heed the tribunal’s warning and instead, lunge head-first into repealing section 7AA may mean harmful ramifications for Māori children.”

She said the bill belittled the mana and rights of tamariki Māori and the Waitangi Tribunal alike.

“We agree with the tribunal’s findings, and call on the government to dump this callous bill, use the current legislation to review the section and engage widely with affected groups.”