The Coroners Court
Many of us are unfamiliar with what a Coroners Court is or what it does, yet its services are crucial to our community. The Coroners Court has had a high profile lately as it considers the cause of death of the Kahui twins and confirms the deaths of many Christchurch earthquake victims whose bodies have not been found.
What it does
The Coroners Court offers crucial coronial services to the New Zealand Police and other government agencies by investigating circumstances and causes of death. Much emphasis is put on conducting investigations in a professional and respectful manner, having regard to the differing cultural and spiritual requirements of the deceased and their families. The findings of investigations are used to make recommendations to improve public safety and prevent deaths in similar circumstances.
The Coroners Court is part of the Ministry of Justice and there are currently 14 coroners situated in nine locations throughout New Zealand. They are appointed by the Governor General pursuant to the Coroners Act 2006. A coroner will have a legal background and is a judicial officer.
The Coroners Act 2006
The Coroners Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”) is designed to enhance independence and public confidence in the coronial system after a number of reforms undertaken by the Ministry of Justice in relation to earlier Acts.
Key features of the 2006 Act include:
- appointment of the Chief Coroner
- establishment of the Coronial Services Unit
- training guidelines for coroners
- guidelines for the recognition of the different cultural and spiritual needs of families and those with a close relationship to the deceased.
The 2006 Act contains a requirement (carried over from the 1988 Act) that deaths resulting from the following circumstances must be reported to the coroner:
- deaths without a known cause
- unnatural or violent deaths
- where a cause of death cannot be established by a doctor
- where the death occurred while or as a result of:
- a surgical or dental procedure
- a woman giving birth
- while the deceased was in official custody or care.
The services of the Coroners Court are also essential following a natural disaster, especially when identification of victims is difficult. Its services have most recently been utilised following the February earthquake in Christchurch. It has played a critical role in establishing the identities and causes of death for the victims of the earthquake and in facilitating the timely release of the victims back to their families.
For families and friends who have lost loved ones in unfortunate or unknown circumstances, the Coroners Court may provide answers which would otherwise not be available. Their findings following an enquiry are invaluable, especially in the aftermath of a natural disaster and in criminal investigations. They also, to some extent, offer families some form of closure.
For more information on coronial services and procedures, or for information on coroners in relation to the Christchurch earthquake, visit http://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/coroners-court
The Unit Titles Act 2010
The Unit Titles Act 2010 (the ‘2010 Act’) came into force on 20 June 2011 and replaced the Unit Titles Act 1972. The 2010 Act contains significant changes from the 1972 Act and now sets the rules and guidelines for the establishment and management of developments such as apartment blocks, multi-layered commercial spaces and flats. This has a significant impact on us locally as this includes small scale, stand alone residential properties in Kerikeri and Paihia. In addition, many families own apartments in the larger centres offering accommodation for children attending university.
The key changes included in the 2010 Act are:
- All common property (e.g. driveways, lifts and stairwells) is now owned by the body corporate. Previously, ownership of common property was jointly vested in all unit owners. The change now allows the body corporate to more effectively act for the benefit of the entire development by representing all unit owners in relation to the improvement and maintenance of common property. In bigger complexes, this may include swimming pools and gym facilities and other recreational areas.
- Responsibility for the maintenance of building elements and infrastructure affecting more than one unit now lies with the body corporate. This means, for example, that the body corporate will be responsible for repairing a leak from a top floor apartment to a unit below (provided the leak is not attributable to the recklessness or negligence of the unit owner and/or occupier.) Previously, the obligation to remedy the leak would have fallen solely on the owner of the top floor apartment.
- Minor alterations to individual units are now more feasible as the 2010 Act allows for increased flexibility relating to re-developments. Obtaining the consent of a body corporate is no longer required to carry out additions or structural alterations to units, provided the modifications do not materially affect the common property or the property of another owner.
- The subdivision of principal units is also possible under the 2010 Act allowing for the creation of a separate unit title development within the principal title, known as a subsidiary.
- This is known as a layered development and allows for multiple use of a building – such as where a building has car parking, shopping complexes and apartments all within its confines.
- The 2010 Act also allows for the creation of separate bodies corporate which govern subsidiary units, which are also part of the head body corporate responsible for overall management of the development.
- The unanimous consent of the body corporate is no longer required under the 2010 Act and a 75% majority is sufficient for decisions to be made. This change has been welcomed by many as it means decisions will less likely be held up by difficult owners.
- Bodies corporate are also required to develop long term maintenance plans in advance, giving owners the opportunity to pay regular instalments over time. This is to avoid owners having to pay large one off special levies for work required on common property such as lifts.
In the short term, all unit owners should note the need for AGMs to be held by 20 December 2011 and for new committees and chairpersons to be elected by that date.
Pre-existing rules for bodies corporate will lapse on 20 September 2012, but new rules may be adopted earlier if the owners resolve to do so. This is also an important expiry date for the adoption of management plans and other long term compliance. Owners of unit titles are urged to be proactive and to obtain advice if required.
For more information, contact Sue Wooldridge on 407 0174 or Lisa Baker on 407 0175.
Weddings and Wills!
Death and wills – this is not a typical topic of conversation when you are preparing for your wedding, but consideration should to be given to the need for wills and contracting out agreements (i.e. pre-nuptial agreements) as marriage may impose significant obligations in relation to property division and the allocation of assets.
If a person dies intestate (without leaving a will), the allocation of his or her assets is determined by the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 and the Administration Act 1969 and may be distributed differently to the way the deceased person envisioned it would be.
A new marriage also automatically invalidates all wills made prior to the date of the marriage unless a will is made in contemplation of that marriage.
Estate planning should also be reviewed before marriage as it too will be significantly affected. Consideration must be given to those who have a statutory right to benefit from a person’s estate. Failure to make appropriate arrangements to reflect one’s wishes can be costly, result in delays and cause a great deal of distress amongst family members or anyone with an expectation that provision will have been made.
Please also remember that the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 applies to couples living together for three years or more. If you have been living with your partner for two years or more it is a good time to review your arrangements.
For proactive, up to date and sensible advice on these issues, contact Sarah Jury on 407 0176 or Graeme McLelland on 407 0179.
We would like to welcome Mana Blackburn who joins us as receptionist. Stacey Price has been promoted to Sarah Jury’s assistant.
All information in this newsletter is to the best of the authors’ knowledge true and accurate. No liability is assumed by the authors or publishers for any losses suffered by any person relying directly or indirectly upon this newsletter. It is recommended that clients should consult a senior representative of the firm before acting on this information.