Contributed by: Patrick Senior, Hannah Bain and Hannah Bergin
Published on: December 09, 2020
The High Court has quashed a Thames-Coromandel District Council (Council) decision not to approve the Mayor signing the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration (Declaration) (Hauraki Coromandel Climate Change Action Inc v Thames-Coromandel District Council  NZHC 3228). The Court has directed the Council to reconsider its decision. This will have significant effects on the way that local government and non-governmental organisations operate when making decisions relating to climate change. In addition, the Court made some interesting observations about the importance of climate change issues in judicial review applications.
The Declaration was prepared by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) and circulated to mayors and regional council chairs throughout New Zealand for signature. It declared "an urgent need for responsive leadership and a holistic approach to climate change” and set out various commitments. The Council voted not to approve the signing of the Declaration because of its potential legal and financial implications (Decision).
Hauraki Coromandel Climate Action Incorporated (HCCA) applied for judicial review of the Decision. The Council's strike out application was unsuccessful and this decision is the substantive judgment.
The Court found the Decision to be unlawful because the Council did not undertake a proper assessment of the climate change issues raised by the Declaration under the Local Government Act 2002 (LGA) and the Council's own Significance and Engagement Policy before it made the Decision. This included a duty to assess the degree of significance of the issues raised, identify all reasonably practicable options and assess them, and consider the views and preferences of those likely to be affected or have an interest in the Decision. While there were legal and financial implications that needed to be (and were) considered, the Court found there were also wider strategic impacts, such as:
The Court also stated:
The Council is now required to make a fresh decision on whether to approve the Mayor signing the Declaration. We would expect to see the Council following the processes for making significant decisions in the LGA and the Council's Significance and Engagement Policy.
The judgment is likely to be of particular interest to public decision-makers, but could have ramifications for the private sector. Some key learnings from the decision are:
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