Lawyers have branded the Government's moves to extend its commissioners' control over Canterbury's regional council unjustified and "a disturbing breach of the rule of law".
The Law Society's Austin Forbes and James Wilding delivered a scathing evaluation of a bill that allows Government-appointed commissioners to continue running Environment Canterbury when its select committee sat in Christchurch on Thursday.
The Government sacked the regional council, Environment Canterbury (ECan), in 2010 and promised there would be elections in 2013, but now wants its commissioners to stay on until 2016.
The bill "is not justified and is a disturbing breach of the rule of law," they said.
"Only a clearly demonstrable or overwhelming reason might justify the suspension of the democratic right to vote within a region for a period of six-and-a-half years," Mr Forbes said.
The time could not be called temporary and went against the council chairwoman Dame Margaret Bazley's advice for a return to democratic elections by 2013, he said.
Emergency post-Christchurch earthquake legislation already gave wide-ranging powers to facilitate recovery.
"The proposed further suspension of local body democracy runs counter to core constitutional values, most importantly that of a free and democratic society," Mr Forbes said.
Local Government Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Amy Adams have said they want the commissioners to stay because they are effective and still had work to do, but no details were given.
However, a Government report prepared in August revealed a key consideration was that a huge irrigation project must not be compromised.
The Government believes agricultural production in the region can be boosted from $1000 a hectare to about $7000, which would give Canterbury's economy a big boost.