One of the big complaints clients regularly have is that basic business rules and law are difficult to find and to understand. That may appear to be good for us lawyers, but there is no reason why clients should need to consult a lawyer for even the most basic matters and it is better for business for everyone involved to have a good level of basic legal knowledge.
There have been many government initiatives to address this issue over the last 20 or 30 years. Those initiatives have included the many helpful publications by the Inland Revenue Department, Ministry of Economic Development and Ministry of Justice. There has also been a move to give “ordinary people” ready access to justice through the Disputes Tribunal and Family Courts. More recently, the internet has been utilised to enable easy searching of public registers, direct access to up to date legislation and the timely publication of judgments of the Courts.
There have also been efforts by parliamentary counsel to make new legislation more readily comprehensible by the lay reader, although such efforts have not always had the desired outcome.
The most recent effort which will be highly relevant for anyone doing business in New Zealand is an omnibus Commercial Law Act. The Act is intended to modernise and consolidate the laws underpinning contracts and commercial transactions. It will consolidate 11 contract and commercial Acts (some of which date back to 1908) into a single piece of legislation with a modern style and format. The Ministry of Justice hopes that the omnibus Act once in force will assist people and businesses to find and follow the rules that apply to them and to help reduce regulatory costs.
The legislation has been in progress since last year and is likely to be enacted into law quite soon.
It is not intended that the new Act will change in the law in any way but, as is always the case when there is a change in the working of legislation, there will be room for some doubt as to whether there was an intention to change the meaning of the words previously used. It will be interesting to see whether the Act achieves its purpose of simplifying matters for business people or makes them still more complicated.
We will publish another update on this issue when the Act comes into force.