Public Law Toolbox

Mai Chen’s Public Law toolbox is a gift to our nation of monumental proportion.

(Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley)

The Public Law Toolbox is an indispensable resource for lawyers, advocates and industry associations, business people, citizens and non-governmental organisations interfacing with government, and for Government and officials.

Find out what leading New Zealand busiesspeople, lawyers and academics are saying about the Public Law Toolbox here.


This book is unique. There is nothing else like it….It is not a book that concentrates upon theory or gives detailed analytical accounts of legal doctrine. What it does is to look inside the engine of the New Zealand system of government and tell people how it works, up close and in detail. It is the perspective of an engineer in the engine room.”

(Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer Distinguished Fellow Faculty of Law and the Centre for Public Law Victoria University of Wellington)


 Order your copy of the Public Law Toolbox here


Who is the book for?

All New Zealanders have to interface with Government, whether that be business regulation, getting government assistance or administrative decision-making. But not all citizens and businesses know how to successfully interact with government on a level playing field or challenge a government decision on a matter of administration or policy and law-making which detrimentally affects them.

It may not even be clear to them which minister or department is responsible or who to deal with. Conversely, there is not always a clear understanding that the public is a client of government and that public power is subject to public law obligations.

The Public Law Toolbox will assist those wanting to influence policy and law reform issues for business or democratic reasons by describing the tools available to businesses and citizens to successfully enable them to make the most of these avenues and resolve disputes concerning administrative and Government decision-making, and advise businesses on how to use the toolbox to resolve disputes with competitors.

The toolbox will also assist Government and officials to understand their unique legal, transparency and accountability obligations and the risks that they face, taking political and public opinion factors into account.

"Mai Chen must be congratulated on providing a tool which I believe is going to serve well many organisations in dealing with the institutions of government. It is the road code and the G.P.S for the general public which will allow them to negotiate pathways to and from government where to go, who to see, when and how."

(Professor Te Wharehuia Milroy CNZM, Fellow of the International Centre of Language Revitalisation, Te Ipukarea: The National Maori Language Institute at the Auckland University of Technology, Co-director of Te Panikiretanga o Te Reo, Te Wanaga o Aotearoa, Trustee of Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board)

Hence, this toolbox is for:

  • business, including business associations;
  • unions and not-for-profit advocacy and provider organisations;
  • Māori advocacy and mandate groups, hapū, iwi, and whanau;
  • Citizens;
  • Government and those working in government;
  • Lawyers and other professional advisers; and
  • Students of law, business, public policy, and politics.

The purpose of this toolbox is to empower those dealing with government to be more effective and successful; and to make constitutional issues ordinary and not extraordinary.



What does the book do?

The toolbox removes the mystery surrounding public law and unravels not only the complexity of the law itself but the body politic, the bureaucracy and institutions that influence it.

It is an accessible, easy to read guide that assists in the navigation of the operation of government which for many of us in business is at best a maze and at worst a minefield.

(Joan Withers, Chair Auckland International Airport Ltd, Chair Mighty River Power Ltd, Deputy Chair TVNZ Ltd, Director The Treasury Advisory Board)

The toolbox will arm anyone who wants to know how to successfully interact with and influence the Government.



What is in it?

There is an entire “Toolbox” of public law mechanisms that sit alongside traditional commercial law remedies. These mechanisms will help citizens and businesses successfully resolve government, regulatory or policy and law reform issues.

"In the Public Law Toolbox, Mai Chen shares more than 25 years of legal experience advising clients on how to navigate the highways and byways of political and legislative power...Public Law Toolbox empowers its readers by utterly demystifying “the system”. Invaluable."

(Dr Sarah Sandley, Publisher & CEO, APN Magazine Group, Chair, Auckland Writers and Readers Festival Charitable Trust, Former Trustee, SPARC (Sport NZ))


There are a range of options apart from the courts, available to businesses and citizens, to challenge government decision making.  Please see the contents page below for a general overview of the toolbox.  






Table of Contents

Table of Cases

Table of Statutes


Part A: Introduction

Chapter 1: Public Law Toolbox

Chapter 2: Holding Government (and Business) to Account

Chapter 3: How Government Works in an MMP Environment

Chapter 4: Elections

Chapter 5: Problem Solving with the Public Law Toolbox.

Chapter 6: Working with the government

Chapter 7: Policy making and law reform

Chapter 8: Making Law

Chapter 9: Parliamentary Tools

Chapter 10: Gathering Information

Chapter 11 Māori Law Toolbox

Chapter 12: Human Rights Protection.

Chapter 13: International Law Toolbox

Chapter 14: Inquiries


Part B: Officers of Parliament

Chapter 15: Ombudsmen

Chapter 16: Office of the Auditor-General

Chapter 17: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment


Part C: Complaints Bodies

Chapter 18: Privacy Commissioner

Chapter 19: Health and Disability Commissioner

Chapter 20: The Independent Police Conduct Authority

Chapter 21: Regulations Review Committee

Chapter 22: Judicial Conduct Commissioner

Chapter 23: Accountability of Intelligence and Security Agencies


Part D: Regulators

Chapter 24: Commerce Commission

Chapter 25: Regulation of Professions


Part E: Litigation

Part F: Fraud and Corruption in the Public Sector


Part G: Constitutional Change



About the Author

Mai Chen is a founding partner of Chen Palmer New Zealand Public and Employment Law Specialists, Australasia’s first public law specialist firm, voted New Zealand’s top public law firm in the New Zealand Law awards in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

She was formerly a member of the Securities Commission, the New Zealand Advisory Board of Trade and Enterprise’s Beachheads Programme, the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and the Advisory Board of AMP Life Limited (NZ). Mai chaired a Tri-Departmental Ministerial Inquiry into the Policy concerning Women in Combat, and undertook a review of the Privacy Act for the Associate Minister of Justice.She is also Adjunct Professor in Commercial and Public Law at the University of Auckland Business School.She was a Senior Lecturer at Victoria University Law School and sat on the Councils of Victoria University of Wellington and Wellington Polytechnic.  

Mai is Chair of the Board of New Zealand Global Women (a network of the most senior NZ women in this country and overseas), a member of the World Class New Zealand Network, and President of the Harvard Law School Alumni Association (New Zealand). She is a member of the New Zealand Law Society Public and Administrative Law Committee.

Mai has particular expertise in constitutional and administrative law, regulatory issues, and public policy and law reform. She is a legal trouble-shooter and provides strategic public law advice for leaders in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.  Find out more about Mai Chen here.


Related Publications

Mai Chen is a prolific author. Selected publications are available here.

See a compiled list of all the reviews of the toolbox (Printer Friendly).







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