Reforming corporate justice laws

One of the reasons so many people are becoming concerned about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement are rumours that corporate court cases might be heard in a secret court that the public and mainstream legal system have no access to, much less jurisdiction over. Although not substantiated, the shroud of secrecy that envelopes the whole T.P.P.A. means that unless legal documents referring to the court are leaked from within, no one will ever know. And in a nation where a functional justice system is considered central to the law, that should be a scary thought.

The unwillingness of this Government of Prime Minister John Key to address the short comings of corporate law was highlighted again this week by division amongst Ministers of the Crown over whether or not to introduce provisions in a proposed law change that enable companies to be punished for corporate manslaughter. The proposed law changes stem from recommendations made by the inquiry into the Pike River mining disaster in which 29 people died and corporate management of Pike River was found severely wanting.

Another concern that needs to be addressed is whether a corporate body can be tried in a secret court, such as the alleged one that is fuelling the rumours around the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. To me this is not an acceptable practice. Where possible court proceedings need to be transparent and accountable to the laws of the nation where they were had. Why should corporates be any more less accountable than the Ma and Pa businesses you see on street corners, the regional brands such as Briscoes or national brands such as the Warehouse? Given New Zealand’s reputation overseas as a nation that promotes a fair go – although some of the companies operating here such as Oyang Corporation seem to think it does not apply to them – corporate law needs to be revisited with a view to closing existing loopholes.

The third concern, and one that inspired the Occupy Movement, is corporate tax evasion/fraud. Few things probably anger me more in terms of dealing with cheats than corporate fraud. And I can see how the Icelandic move to jail the bankers who perpetuated the collapse of so many financial institutions there caught on. Although I am not sure how well a similar move would have played out in New Zealand, there is no doubt it was a brave call to make. My own views about dealing with tax cheats/fraudsters are that they should be put on a register of convicted criminals whose crimes were of a financial nature and be legally blocked from ever holding financial or other corporate directorship again, along with a combination of jail sentences and/or property seizures if the defendant has significant assets such as yachts, apartments or private jets.

Like I said, corporates are no more above the law than your local Ma and Pa business, their customers, suppliers or anyone else. Nor should they be.

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