What to expect at a hearing

A hearing is a legal process that follows a formal set of rules. There are certain procedures you can expect when you attend a hearing as an applicant or a submitter.

There are different rules and procedures depending on which type of hearing you are attending. But it's important that you are prepared and have everything you need for your attendance.

You can attend as an observer, but you will not have a role beyond this – there won't be an opportunity for you to speak or provide evidence.

Attending an EEZ and Continental Shelf Act hearing Plus

We will hold a hearing on an application for a marine consent if a submitter or the applicant asks for one, or if we consider it necessary or desirable. If you have made a submission and indicated you wish to speak at the hearing, you will have the opportunity to present your submission to the decision-making committee.

We will issue a hearing notice at least 20 working days before the hearing starts. It will include the dates, times and venue(s) for the hearing. The hearing venue may be a marae.

Marine consent hearings are required to avoid unnecessary formality. It isn’t as formal as a court, but follows a similar process.

The rules and timeframes on how the hearing process will run are set out in the hearing procedures for each application.

The Chair of the decision-making committee will run the hearing process and direct when parties can speak or ask questions, and when breaks will be taken. They will also manage any changes from the hearing procedures.

A detailed hearing schedule will be available on our website and updated regularly. It will include the dates, venues and order of speakers on each day with approximate timings. The hearing timetable can change at short notice and you will need to be flexible. We will keep you informed. It's not possible to guarantee a specific day or time for appearing at the hearing.

Keep in touch with EPA staff about changes to the schedule, or any particular needs you have. The submission form will tell you how to get in touch.

Things to remember during the hearing 

  • Arrive in plenty of time. The doors are usually open for at least 30 minutes before the hearing starts. 
  • When you arrive, complete the attendance register and take a seat in the public seating area. 
  • While the hearing is in session the doors are closed. If you need to enter or leave, be as quiet as possible. 
  • During the hearing, don’t call out with questions or make comments unless asked to do so by the committee. 
  • Photographs, sound recordings or video are not permitted at a hearing without the committee’s consent. 
  • No food or drinks other than water may be consumed in the hearing room.

EPA staff at the hearing will be able to answer any questions you have.

Who speaks when?

The decision-making committee will set out the format of the hearing in the hearing procedures.

The hearing will usually be held in the following order: 

  • Opening the hearing – the hearing may open with a mihi whakatau. 
  • Opening statement from the Chair – to formally open the hearing on the first day and to make daily announcements.
  • Opening representations from the applicant. 
  • Opening representations from submitters – this is not compulsory and you must advise us in advance if you want to do this.
  • Expert witnesses. 
  • Non-expert witnesses for applicant and submitters.
  • Representations – submitters who chose to speak to their submissions. 
  • Closing statement from submitters – this is not compulsory and you must advise us in advance if you want to do this. 
  • Closing representations from the applicant.
  • Closing the hearing – the hearing may close with a mihi whakatau.
  • Closing statement from the Chair.

At the end of the hearing the Chair may close the hearing, or adjourn it and formally close it at a later date. If you choose to speak at the hearing, we will notify you when the hearing is formally closed.

Speaking to your submission (making a representation)

Speaking at a hearing is your opportunity to talk about the submission you have made. You can give your opinions on the application, say how it will affect you, and ask for a particular decision or outcome. This is called making a representation. Someone can speak about your submission on your behalf.

Prepare speaking notes or a summary of your submission to read at the hearing and bring 10 copies and one electronic copy to the hearing to give to the Hearing Manager.

What is evidence?

Giving evidence is different from making a representation. Evidence is a statement that sets out or evaluates facts. This can include opinions made by expert witnesses. These are people who are considered experts because of their knowledge or experience in a certain field. Expert witnesses are required to abide by a Code of Conduct. Evidence can also be provided by non-expert witnesses. The hearing procedures provide more details about evidence.

Expert Code of Conduct, Environment Court’s Practice Note 2014 (pdf 269KB)

Things to remember when speaking

  • Introduce yourself and/or your organisation. If you are representing an organisation, state what your role is in the organisation, the organisation's objectives, activities and membership base.
  • Be polite and keep calm.
  • Speak slowly and clearly into the microphone.
  • Be concise and to the point. Clearly state your concerns and provide information to back up your point of view.
  • Avoid talking about information not covered in your submission or introducing new material.
  • Avoid repeating what others have said, but acknowledge where you agree with it.
  • Speak from your notes and written submission if you are nervous or not used to speaking in public.

The decision

The decision-making committee makes a decision within 20 working days after the close of the hearing, and it is publicly released as soon as practicable. The decision can be appealed to the High Court on points of law only. The report is sent to all submitters and posted on the our website.

If the committee has granted the consent, it can set conditions to address the potential adverse effects of the activity on the environment or existing interests. We will monitor and enforce these conditions.

Attending a Resource Management Act hearing Plus

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.

See our fact sheets on speaking at a hearing for more information.

Hearing procedures

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.

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 the Ministry for the Environment's An Everyday Guide to the RMA series:

Appearing at a hearing about a proposed plan or resource consent hearing

Attending a HSNO Act hearing Plus

Sometimes a public hearing is held for an application. A hearing is a formal meeting where submitters and the applicant are able to present their views to the decision-making committee.

A hearing takes place if one or more of the submitters (or the applicant) asks to be heard, or if the decision-making committee thinks it is necessary.

The hearing takes place within 30 working days of submissions closing, unless the time limit has been formally extended by us or the applicant.

If you wish to attend the hearing and present information relating to your submission to the decision-making committee:

  • You must indicate in your submission whether you wish to attend a hearing.
  • You should also indicate in your submission whether you intend to call an expert witness to provide technical advice and support

Who makes the decisions?

Applications made to us are considered by decision-making bodies. Depending on the type of application, they can either be decided by:

  • qualified people within the EPA
  • specialist decision-making committees which are made up of people with a range of expertise.

Before the hearing

We will provide at least 10 working days' notice of the hearing date, time and place. We'll give this information to all submitters and the applicant.

We'll also forward submitters a link to (or copy of) the EPA Staff Assessment Report. This report is prepared by us for the decision-making committee. It brings together a summary of submissions and any other new information received since the original application, and may contain recommendations.

Pre-hearing meetings and hui

We may arrange a pre-hearing meeting, so that submitters and the applicant can talk about and clarify issues in the application. These meetings are held soon after submissions close. 

The issues raised in submissions can sometimes be resolved at a pre-hearing meeting, avoiding the need for a formal hearing.

At the hearing

All hearings are open to the public, including the media (unless it is necessary to protect sensitive information). However, the only people who can speak are the applicant, submitters who stated in their submission that they wished to be heard, EPA staff, our Māori advisory committee, and the decision-making committee members. 

The purpose of a hearing is for the decision-making committee to gain further information from the applicant and submitters.

It isn't an opportunity for the applicant and submitters to question each other - although the Chair may permit questions of clarification, at their discretion, on the day.

After the hearing

The decision-making committee will ultimately base its decision on all the information put before it, including information presented at the hearing. A link to, or copy of, the written decision will be forwarded to all submitters within 30 working days of the hearing closing (unless the timeframe has been extended). The written decision will also be available on our website within this timeframe.