Māori lawyers have written an urgent letter to the Prime Minister over concerns recent comments by Shane Jones regarding the Waitangi Tribunal have crossed the line.

The tribunal is currently holding an inquiry into the Government’s plan to scrap Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act and in a rare move has summonsed Children’s Minister Karen Chhour to give evidence.

Shane Jones told Waatea News: “The Waitangi Tribunal has no business running its operations as some sort of star chamber delivering summons for ministers to rock up and be cross-examined or grilled.”

He also said he was looking forward to conducting a review of the Tribunal’s powers as part of the coalition agreement.

The Māori Law Society’s letter to Christopher Luxon said those comments were not only “inappropriate” and “unconstitutional” but also a breach of the Minister’s obligations in the Cabinet Manual.

Māori lawyers have written an urgent letter to the Prime Minister over concerns recent comments by Shane Jones regarding the Waitangi Tribunal have crossed the line.

The manual provides that Ministers must “exercise judgement before commenting on matters before the courts or judicial decisions”.

It also says Ministers may comment on the effectiveness of the law “but not where the performance of the courts is brought into question”.

“Minister Jones’ comments directly bring into question the performance of the Waitangi Tribunal, an independent Commission of Inquiry established by legislation that serves a function akin to a Court and over which a Judge presides,” the Māori Law Society letter said.

“The comments, which are paired with a threat of executive review of the function and purpose of the Tribunal could also have a chilling effect and reflect adversely on Waitangi Tribunal decisions going forward. Te Hunga Roia Māori o Aotearoa considers that Minister Jones’s comments breach of the separation of powers and are likely to breach the Cabinet Manual.”

Meanwhile, Crown lawyers are challenging the tribunal’s summons Chhour in the High Court.

The Māori Law Society said Jones’ comments undermine this case.

Legal challenge opposes plans to remove section 7AA from the Oranga Tamariki Act – compelling the agency to give effect to the Treaty.

“It is for the High Court, in accordance with the rule of law, to determine whether the Waitangi Tribunal has overreached by issuing a summons. Ministerial comment relating to a judicial decision that is now currently before the High Court is an unconstitutional use of power and platform that undermines the integrity of our system of law,” the letter said.

The Māori Law Society has asked the Prime Minister to conduct a review into whether there has been a Cabinet Manual breach.

The collective has also asked to meet with the Attorney General over the matter and would like her to “exercise her constitutional functions to uphold the integrity of the judicial branch of government within Cabinet”.

Section 7AA in the Act requires the Oranga Tamariki chief executive to publicly report on the agency’s progress in improving outcomes for Māori children in state care.

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