Justice Minister Judith Collins has appointed former Cabinet colleague Wayne Mapp to the Law Commission, ignoring recommendations and without consulting her ministry or other interest groups.We should not hold any particular prejudice against a former politician being appointed to the Law Commission. It has happened in the past. Sir Geoffrey Palmer headed the body for some time, and he brought to the role a prominent academic pedigree together with one of the country’s sharpest legal minds. Palmer also had considerable experience at the business-end of law reform, having been Justice Minister for several years and PM for a short period.
But commission president Sir Grant Hammond said he was delighted with the decision, even though Dr Mapp was not on his radar when he recommended six candidates last year.
Mapp will bring some of these attributes to the job, even if his political and academic stars don't shine quite as brightly as Palmer’s. I have no reason to think Dr Mapp won’t do a good job. He had a background in academia before becoming a politician, and as an MP and minister he was never particularly controversial or polarising.
However, the process under which Mapp was appointed is troubling. Justice Minister Judith Collins not only failed to select any of the six candidates put forward by the Commission’s president. She didn’t even check their availability. She didn't consult any departments, agencies or interest groups before deciding to appoint Dr Mapp. It appears that the only people she consulted were government and support party MPs.
It is thus an inescapable conclusion that Dr Mapp’s appointment was not based on his legal or academic accomplishments, but was entirely political.
The Law Commission fulfils a vital role as an independent forum for exploring legal issues and advocating law reform. It retains the respect of the legal profession, media and politicians precisely because it is seen not to be pursuing a particular agenda.
If the process of appointing members of the Commission ends up being perceived as entirely political, then the reputation of that body will suffer and many people will take its findings less seriously.
This government has a “we know best” attitude towards law reform issues. It broke records during the last parliamentary term for the frequency with which it adopted urgency in the House to pass legislation. It has frequently ignored the concerns of the legal profession, and has shown little inclination to consult on difficult or controversial issues.
Appointing one of their own as member of the Commission without any proper consultation is yet another example of this trend. Will people take the Law Commission seriously any more?