Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry begins today

The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of 29 men inside the Pike River Coal mine will begin with a minute’s silence today.

Local media is reporting that lawyers have already arrived for the preliminary hearing, which is due to begin at 11am New Zealand time.

The opening statement by Justice Graham Pankhurst will precede submissions by counsel representing the various parties, regarding process or issues relating to the inquiry.

The preliminary hearing is expected to adjourn at about 2pm, after which the inquiry will be adjourned until public hearings begin on 23 May.

The four phases of the hearings– context, search and rescue, what happened at Pike River and policy aspects – will be dealt with in blocks over 15 weeks.

Families of the victims have said they do not believe the inquiry is long enough to adequately assess the situation.

Nicholas Davidson QC, who represents some of the men killed in the mine told Radio New Zealand the families want truth over justice.

"It may be hard for them in some respects but they simply want the truth," he said.

Following the conclusion on 4 November, commissioners will have until 31 march next year to deliver their findings.

The Department of Labour has requested more time to decide if it will lay charges over the explosions in the mine, which began on 19 November.

According to New Zealand’s Health and Safety Act, charges must laid within six months of a workplace incident, but the department says it needs more time because it is one of the most complex investigations it has ever undertaken.

The Act allows for extensions in such cases such as the Pike River Coal tragedy, which involves large quantities of records, complex technical issues and a significant number of interviewees.

Acting deputy chief executive for the Department of Labour, Lesley Haines said the reason for the extension application in simply a time factor.

"This application does not imply any pre-determination of the outcome of our investigation," she said.

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