Why standing down a Minister for their brother is absolutely wrong

The ODT reports:

Prime Minister John Key has rejected calls by Labour to stand down a minister whose brother is facing indecency charges.

Mr Key said the minister informed him on April 1 about the charges and offered to stand down.

The Prime Minister sought advice from the Cabinet Office as to whether a conflict of interest existed.

He said “further, deeper advice” was sought by the Cabinet Office and that advice confirmed there was no conflict of interest.

He would not say where the further advice came from but it could have been from the Solicitor General, a QC, an academic or another specialist in such matters. “I am quite confident the position is correctly assessed and thorough,” Mr Key said. …

Labour leader Andrew Little said if the public thought there was a conflict of interest, then the Prime Minister should act accordingly.

“If a family member is embroiled in an issue which may be seen by the public as conflict of interest, the Prime Minister must take every action required as soon as possible.”

Once again Andrew Little is wrong, and it is very disappointing he uses the fact a sibling of a politician has been charged as a way to score political points.

Most people accept you should not stand down a Minister because a family member has done something wrong. Would you argue John Tamihere should not have been a Minister because his brother was in jail for murder? No.

Now a few have argued that it is different if the Minister holds a portfolio in the justice sector, such as Justice, Police, Corrections etc. Again, they are wrong. They are not wrong that it may create a conflict that needs managing, but they are absolutely wrong that the way you manage that is by the Minister standing down.

Let’s say the person charged is the brother of the Minister of Justice. Should they stand down because their brother has been charged? Well if you stand down the Minister of Justice because their brother has been prosecuted, then you’re saying that they may have been able to interfere in the case if they had not stood down.

Now that is wrong. The Police and Crown Law have statutory independence in their functions (apart from a few small areas where the Attorney-General plays a role). No Minister can interfere in decisions around police investigations, charges, bail, prosecutions, trials, convictions, sentencing, or parole.

The proof of an independent justice system is when (as has happened here) the Police can and do investigate the sibling of a cabinet minister, and do decide to prosecute them and charge them. The fact this happens while the Minister remains in office is a strength, not a weakness.

If a minister who holds a portfolio in the justice sector has a family member charged with an offence, the only thing that needs to be done is to make sure that the Minister is not briefed or in the loop in any way on the prosecution. As Ministers are not briefed on such things anyway, that should not be difficult.

Let’s hold Ministers responsible for what they do. Not for what family members may do.

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