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.