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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Inquiry must examine liability

Inquiry must examine liability

Last updated 08:30 12/04/2011
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into inner-city building failure during Christchurch's February earthquake should investigate liability, critics say.

The commission's terms of reference were released yesterday.

It will focus on badly-hit inner-city buildings like the CTV and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings, where there was significant loss of life, and also look into the overall adequacy of building regulations.

However, CTV chairman Nick Smith told Radio New Zealand an investigation into liability was important.

"I sort of question the need for an inquiry if you're not going to attach some form of pointer as to why it happened and who could be culpable...

"I think for anyone in Christchurch...we all want to know the answers. Lets be upfront and say our building standards were not sufficient."

Ann Bodkin, who was trapped in the collapsed Pyne Gould Corporation building, also said the commission should find fault.

"There were two buildings that just fell down like a pack of cards and you would really have to ask some questions about their structure."

But lawyer Mai Chen, a public law specialist, said the commission was not a court.

"The purpose of a Royal Commission is to investigate, it's adjudicatory...The purpose of it is to get to the bottom of the matter...not to incriminate," she told the radio station.

The commission would examine why Christchurch's buildings collapsed.

"So there is quite a lot material in there which could you set you up quite nicely for being prosecuted in other fora after the Royal Commission has reported," she said.

The commission will look specifically at what factors led some central city buildings to fail severely; why some buildings' failures caused injury and death; and why buildings differed as to the extent to which they failed and caused injury or death.

The commission will also look into the adequacy of current legal and best-practice requirements of the design, construction and maintenance of buildings in central business districts around the country.

It will report its final findings by April 11, 2012 and will release an interim report after six months.

The report would include recommendations for:

* measures necessary or desirable to prevent or minimise the failure of buildings in New Zealand due to the earthquakes;
* the costs of those measures;
* and the adequacy of legal and best-practice requirements for building design, construction and maintenance.

The commission would be supported by the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson would be the minister in charge.

Sir Ron Carter and Associate Professor Richard Fenwick have been appointed commissioners and will join chairman High Court judge Justice Mark Cooper on the commission.

The inquiry is expected to cost about $6 million.

Meanwhile, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority legislation would be introduced to Parliament today under urgency.


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