Under the RMA a board of inquiry
is required to hold a hearing to consider a matter unless neither the applicant
nor any submitter wants to be heard. These hearings must be held in public at a
place near to the affected area, if possible.
Anyone can participate in the decision-making process for proposals of national significance by making a submission and attending the hearing.
Only the applicant and submitters have a right to be heard at the hearing.
A board of inquiry is responsible for the conduct of a hearing and must give notice to the parties of the hearing timetable. The board may set procedures in advance of the hearing to ensure that the process runs smoothly and to time.
If the board does set hearing procedures, these will be made available to the parties. These procedures describe how the board of inquiry intends to conduct the hearing and includes key dates.
The board may also request further information from the applicant or submitters or commission reports on the application. All information and reports will be made available to the parties.
What to expect
Board of inquiry and Environment Court hearings are generally more formal in nature than a council hearing. There could be a larger number of people involved, including experts and lawyers. Presentation of evidence and cross-examination may mean that the hearing is longer than a council hearing.
Every person who makes a submission on a proposal has the right to speak to their submission at the hearing. You are only able to talk about issues you have included in your written submissions. You should indicate whether you would like to be heard on your submission form.
You don't have to speak to your submission, and while speaking at a hearing can help highlight points in your submission, it is just as valid if you don't speak to it. If you do speak at a hearing, you will only be able to address issues raised in your original submission.
Like at a council hearing, members of the board or Court can question both the applicant and submitters. But unlike a council hearing, cross-examination of witnesses may be allowed.
Also, unlike a council hearing, there is no right of appeal to the Environment Court for a decision made by a board of inquiry. Decisions can only be appealed to the High Court on points of law. This means that the case that you present should be clear, concise, well reasoned and cover all points of concern.
When speaking at a hearing you can make a statement and may present 'evidence' in support of that statement.
A statement is simply a summary of the decision that you want the board or Court to make, and is usually not made under oath. It usually highlights the main points of your submission and might respond to submissions made by others. You can make your own statement, or choose to be represented by a lawyer or other agent.
Evidence is about matters of fact, or in the case of qualified experts, matters of opinion about issues within their field of expertise. Evidence is given under oath and people giving evidence may be cross-examined by other parties or their lawyers. If presenting evidence, you may be required to circulate it prior to the hearing.
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How to prepare
You should identify the key points that you want to raise and make sure that these are covered in your presentation. Be specific about concerns, how these could be addressed, and what the desired outcome is. It is a good idea to think about what questions the board or Court might ask, and how these could be answered.
When presenting a statement you should stick to the matters raised in your submission. Don't play on emotions, breach protocol or get distracted by personal issues or past disputes.
For more information see following booklets as part of the Ministry for the Environment's An Everyday Guide to the RMA series:
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