Sid Wellik talks about why G-REG is critical for lawyers

We recently spoke to Sid Wellik from Maritime New Zealand about G-REG and its importance for lawyers.

How does G-REG help you from a legal perspective?

As lawyers, it broadens our perspective. We as lawyers look at things in categories of law. For example, there’s contract law there’s criminal law, there’s administrative law. While compliance staff may think of compliance in a broader term, lawyers may tend to think of that as just administrative law (i.e. people exercising statutory power) or it’s criminal law, (i.e. prosecutions). And we’ll see those as discrete subsets of the framework of the law.

What G-REG is doing is looking at compliance – as if a person was looking at the light reflected form a different angle out of a prism. It’s saying ‘What are we trying to achieve here?’ We have these things called statutes, which are really regulatory frameworks. How do we actually implement those and do we achieve the policy objective, which is the underlying idea behind the legislation? The only way we can achieve that policy is to have people “on the ground” actually doing stuff, and that’s compliance staff. So G-REG assists us to ask the question ‘what’s the compliance operating model?’. That informs which decisions are actually made.

I’ve been a government lawyer for over 15 years. I was at Crown Law and other government agencies. I was also in the private sector. Before I worked at Maritime New Zealand, I’d never heard about a compliance operating model before. I’d never heard about compliance theory before. What G-REG does is allow you to see the law in the broader context of what an organisation is seeking to achieve. Understanding a bit about regulatory theory is really important because it helps put into context what you’re trying to achieve.

How does that help with your day-to-day work?

From a legal perspective, if someone says ‘What do I do in this situation?’ The law says: well here are your six options. There are rules to follow to do any one of those things lawfully. But how do you know what you want to do? Well the law’s not going to tell you which option to choose. The law’s going to say those are six valid legal options. If you follow the right processes and have the right evidence to support them; you can make whatever choice you want.

Regulatory theory helps people think deeper: so, now I know, through my understanding of compliance theory and my knowledge of my compliance operating model, which one of those choices I think is best to make. For lawyers to understand that decision-makers are thinking in that way is really helpful. It helps a lawyer see things in a wider context, than just a legal perspective.

I also think the material on intelligence models is really interesting. How do we use information to best use our resources. The law will tell you when you’re using those resources, what you need to do in order to take action, but it’s not going to say which groups to target. Understanding that that’s the model your organisation uses is really helpful.

Is a common regulatory language important?

I think the idea of speaking a common language is great. One of the ideas that has been around government for a while is regulatory stewardship. How do we look after our regulatory stock, our regulatory frameworks? How do we look after them in a better manner, in a more efficient manner? G-REG has a working group on that, and is assisting with developing a common language.

How does that help you as an individual lawyer?

I’ll give you an example. In one case we issued statutory notices to a PCBU under the Health and Safety legislation. The recipient of those notices appealed to the District Court. This looked like a straightforward case. However, the judge disagreed with us. When we analysed the case and were deciding whether to appeal, the question that our Chief Executive raised was: are we taking a whole of system view? That’s one of the things about regulatory stewardship. That’s one of the things that G-REG is working on. How does a court case that we’re working on affect the whole of the system of that area of the law? G-REG is one of the mechanisms to get these concepts to people. It enables us to progress the law together.

In time I can have those conversations with my counterparts in other legal teams and they will know exactly the context of why I’m talking to them. They will appreciate that I’m not seeking their agreement or approval, but we want to work together for the public good. We will know that we are working off the same page. So, G-REG is a long term vision. That’s why I’m involved.

G-REG is about building a profession of regulators, and government lawyers are part of that profession. Lawyers need to understand that wider context.

Do you know if many lawyers are involved?

As far as I am aware, not many. Our internal legal team are all doing the G-REG Core Knowledge qualification, or have done it. Generally, here hasn’t been a specific focus on lawyers. That being said, some G-REG secretariat members had a meeting with the Solicitor-General earlier this year, and the Solicitor General’s on board. She wants Crown Law to be involved. She can see the real value of G-REG.

Personally, I think it’s critical for lawyers who work in government. Otherwise, we’ll just get left behind. Other people will be charging ahead with these ideas and we won’t see the full scope of the environment in which we work.

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