Price on Parliament and court cases

Readers may recall a massive scarp between Rodney Hide and the Speaker when she refused to allow him to talk about the Wayne Crapper perjury video, because Winston claimed it was the subject of a court case.

takes a look at how the Speaker ruled:

In the end, the Speaker ruled in Peters’ favour, saying Hide was in breach. “Nothing said in the House should prejudice, however slightly, the decision of any court,” the Speaker said. “The House applies more rigorous inhibitory standards on itself than apply to the media in reporting judicial proceedings.” This is because the legislature “should take extreme care not to undermine confidence in the judicial resolution of disputes by intruding on individual cases”.

I don’t know what precisely is in issue in the lawsuit. But I think that ruling is wrong. I’m worried about the phrase “however slightly”.  It’s a ridiculously low threshold, far lower than that applicable to the media. The rules applying to them say they can’t create a “real risk of prejudice” to an upcoming trial. That’s nebulous and chilling enough. This “however slightly” nonsense goes much further.Is it required by a sensible reading of the rules? Nope. In fact it flies in the face of the language that demands “a real and substantial danger of prejudice”.

Is it required by the needs of the administration of justice? Nope. If the courts can tolerate the media commenting on cases as long as they don’t create real risks of prejudice, then they can put up with MPs doing the same.

Is it good policy? Nope. There seems even more reason to cut our elected representatives some slack when conducting the business of the nation than there does for the media.

Is is good law? Nope again. The Speaker has forgotten that the Bill of Rights Act, which was passed by Parliament and says explicitly that it applies to Parliament, requires any restrictions on free speech to be demonstrably justified. You’d think that might be a relevant factor when considering how to interpret Standing Order 111. Apparently not.

I also thought it was a bad ruling. It actually allows any MP to gag any other MP by claiming that what they are referring to is the subject of a lawsuit.

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