In early 2009 a group of senior, independent RMA hearing Commissioners created a forum to discuss issues of common concern around decision making processes at first instance. The forum has now produced a practice guide for the conduct of RMA hearings, with its recommendations categorised as either 'Best Practice', 'Preferred Practice', or 'Discretionary Practice'.

A 'Best Practice' recommendation means that the Forum considers that the guide should be adopted for all but exceptional cases, and 'Preferred Practice' that the guide should usually be adopted. 'Discretionary Practice' means that the Forum considers that whether or not any particular guide is adopted by an independent commissioner is a matter of discretion on the part of that commissioner. For example, the issue of whether an interim decision is appropriate is considered a discretionary practice, whereas the guide gives 'Best Practice' recommendations for delegations of functions or powers from local authorities.

The guide addresses procedural matters under the four general headings of Delegations, Pre-hearing Processes, Hearing Procedure and Decisions, and represents the views of the forum at the stated dates. The guide will be discussed further at the session on 'Best Practice for RMA hearings and Decision-making' at the RMLA conference in Hamilton this October, with copies of the guide having been recently circulated to RMLA members. The practice guide will be of interest not only to independent commissioners but also those appearing before them.