Red Alert

Why we’re supporting this Bill

Posted by on August 18th, 2011

Today the Labour Party is taking the unusual step of supporting the National Government passing a Bill through all stages of Parliament’s process under Urgency. We’ve been pretty critical of National’s use of Urgency to avoid select committee scrutiny so I think it’s important we explain why we’re supporting its use in this instance.

In 2008 a major re-write of the Police Act was passed by the previous Labour government. It’s a big and complex piece of legislation and mistakes were made. Under the law, if someone is discharged or found not guilty of a crime, their photographs and fingerprints have to be destroyed by Police, but if they are found guilty, they’re kept on file.

Inadvertently, the law was changed to prevent the Police retaining the photos and fingerprints of young people where they were dealt with by the Youth Court rather than the District Court. In other words, even if the young person was found ‘guilty’ by the Youth Court the Police would have had to destroy their photographs and fingerprints.

This needed to be fixed under Urgency because once the mistake was publicly known young offenders who had been convicted using identifying information the Police had stored could have had grounds for appeal.

The Bill that Parliament is currently passing effectively restores the status quo. It reverses a law change that was made by accident, without debate, without select committee scrutiny, and without anyone even knowing it was happening.

The Green Party and the M?ori Party are voting against the Bill currently before Parliament. Some of their arguments are based on process; that Urgency creates bad law and the Bill deserves select committee scrutiny. As I’ve noted above, on balance I don’t accept that in this case and think there is a legitimate case for Urgency.

But some of the arguments being raised in opposition to the Bill raise wider policy issues. I agree that these are legitimate debates, but this is not the appropriate time to raise them (I would also note that when the substance of the law was being debated, neither the Greens nor the M?ori Party felt sufficiently strongly about the issues at the time to even speak about them and that part of the original Bill was passed unanimously).

As I’ve said, I don’t like the use of Urgency to pass laws in a hurry without proper debate and scrutiny. It should only be used in exceptional circumstances. In this instance I think Urgency is warranted.


14 Responses to “Why we’re supporting this Bill”

  1. dave says:

    Ineed urgency was waranteed – but why secrecy until 930am today ?

  2. Mikey says:

    Chris, whilst I could gripe about the inconsistencies of the NZ Labour Party for years to come, I appluade your reasoned and balanced analysis here.

    It’s great to see politicians applying a pragmatic approach to politics, rather than an automatic opposition to the Government of the day.

    On behalf of New Zealand, thanks!

  3. Mikey says:

    Did my comment make the cut? Can I ne removed from moderation please? (I assume that’s what is preventing my comment). Ta

  4. insider says:

    Good call Chris

  5. Idiot/Savant says:

    And this is one of the great things about Red Alert: MP’s fronting up and defending their positions to their voters and the public at large.

    As for the merits, I agree that all-stages urgency is justified (though the secrecy was not; that was just authoritarian control freakery and laziness on the part of Ministers). As for the substantive issue, it deserves scrutiny, but a sudden change to the status quo probably isn’t the right way to do that. Inserting a review and report provision into the bill would have handled that.

  6. Malcolm says:

    I think most of the complaints were about the secrecy. Yes urgency is sometimes needed, for example cases like this. But the public should at least be aware of the laws being passed in this country.

  7. jennifer says:

    Chris, when the 2008 legislation was passed, which parties voted in favour and which voted against?

  8. Pete says:

    @jennifer according to the Journal of the House for the week beginning Tuesday 26 August 2008, on the 3rd reading of the Policing Bill, the Ayes were 108: New Zealand Labour 48; New Zealand National 44; New Zealand First 7; Green Party 4; United Future 2; Progressive 1; Independents: Copeland, Field and the Noes were 2 from the Maori Party (looks like Act didn’t vote).

  9. jennifer says:

    @ Pete, thanks, at least the Maori Party can say they are being consistent by voting against the flawed provision and against the corrected provision? I guess voting against anything to do with the cops is their default position?

  10. Dylan says:

    It’s good to see the two main opposing parties agree with each other from time to time. To me its reassuring that politics is an intellectual process and not some kind of game.

  11. The Jackal says:

    How many young offenders who had been convicted using identifying information the Police improperly stored are there I wonder? Despite the correction, under the current law those people still have grounds to appeal.

    The initial mistake was made because the law was also passed under urgency. That would seem to give more weight to the Greens and Maori parties argument that urgency creates mistakes.

    An appropriate time to debate the improper use of urgency which is undoubtedly causing further inconsistencies and mistakes, is as soon as possible. The time it takes to fix these mistakes probably discounts any time saved from using urgency.

    In my opinion, this example is further proof that the whole Parliamentary system is a complete shambles.

  12. Ed says:

    TV News appeared to say that this problem had been known for a year with nothing being done, and later it was implied that thousands of fingerprints and photos were destroyed only recently. It does seem strange to condone such actions for a year – were there particularly difficult drafting problems to resolve or did it just not get priority from the relevant department and Minister? The secrecy surrounding which bill was being put through didn’t seem to be of interest to the press however . . .

    Well done to Labour on the cooperation however.

  13. For folks wondering “why the secrecy?” … it will have been to stop any defence lawyer spotting the mistake and filing an appeal based upon it (or even seeking damages for the unlawful retention of the information). That would have created constitutional headaches for the Government – on a separation of powers basis, legislation should not operate to defeat an individual who is seeking vindication of her or his rights in the courts. So either the Bill would have had to have allowed such challenges to carry on (while deeming all other uses of the information to be legal), or it would have had to kill off such cases (which could result in criticism of the measure).

    By keeping quiet about this, the Government ensured no cases were brought – so the concern about overriding an existing court proceeding didn’t arise. Sneaky, huh?

    Oh – also … this is the second quick-fix the Policing Act 2008 has had to have. Back in 2009 the swearing in of new police officers needed to be deemed lawful, after the wrong people were administering the oath. If there’s a strike 3, does this piece of legislation explode?

  14. @Jackal: “How many young offenders who had been convicted using identifying information the Police improperly stored are there I wonder? Despite the correction, under the current law those people still have grounds to appeal.”

    No they don’t. The Bill contains a retrospective validation of the Police’s actions back to 2008, which means that this storage is now deemed to have been lawful (even if it was inconsistent with the law at the time). There’s no possible ground for appeal.