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New Zealand: Inquiry into Mine Tragedy Begins

(Dec. 22, 2010) On December 13, 2010, the New Zealand government released the final terms of reference and announced the appointment of two additional members for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River coalmine disaster in which 29 people died. (Press Release, Hon. Christopher Finlayson, Appointments to Pike River Royal Commission (Dec. 13, 2010), The chairman of the Commission, Justice Graeme Pankhurst, a sitting High Court Judge who was appointed as a Commissioner on November 29, 2010, stated that this action marked the beginning of the inquiry (Royal Commission into Mine Tragedy Begins, NEW ZEALAND HERALD (Dec. 14, 2010),
.) The two other Commissioners are Stewart Bell, who is the Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health for Queensland, Australia, and David Henry, who was formerly the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Electoral Commission and the Inland Revenue Commissioner. (Press Release, supra.)

The mine disaster began on November 19, 2010, with a major explosion within the mine, which is located on the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. The mine was considered to be unsafe for rescuers to enter and, after a further explosion on November 24, an expert assessment found that none of those trapped in the mine could have survived. The inquiry will examine the cause of the explosions, the cause of the loss of life of the workers, the practices used at the mine and their compliance with laws or recognized practices, and the search and rescue operations. The Commissioners have been asked to report their findings by the end of March 2012 (New Zealand Government, Terms of Reference of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy (Dec. 2010), available at

In announcing the inquiry, Prime Minister John Key said:

The circumstances and cause of the deaths of 29 men in the Pike River mine need to be understood so that we can do everything we can to make sure this tragedy isn't repeated. … We owe it to the families of the men who perished in the Pike River mine to find out what happened, and I believe a Royal Commission is the best way to do that. (Press Release, Hon. John Key, PM Announces Royal Commission on Pike River (Nov. 29, 2010),

The Commissioners will be able to subpoena witnesses and obtain expert evidence. Justice Pankhurst said that a website would be established to keep the public and the media aware of developments. (NEW ZEALAND HERALD, supra.) The Government has stated that it “will meet the reasonable costs of legal services for those families directly affected by the Pike River mine accident, which arise out of the Royal Commission of Inquiry.” (Press Release, Hon. Christopher Finlayson, Government to Meet Legal Costs of Miners' Families (Dec. 14, 2010),