The Epidemic Response Committee, chaired by Opposition leader Simon Bridges, was set up to provide scrutiny of the Government’s actions and hold agencies to account for the way in which they exercise their far-reaching powers.
It is one of the few avenues for democratic oversight in Aotearoa at present and is accordingly extremely important.
Today, the committee examined how the police are interpreting and applying the emergency powers they have been given.
Professor John Hopkins of the University of Canterbury, a specialist in disaster law, is providing expert advice to the committee and set the scene by outlining the laws that give the police and other agencies the emergency powers they are using.
Hopkins highlighted a key concern of lawyers who are observing how events are unfolding during the lockdown: the wide discretion of police officers on the ground. …
Bush said police were receiving advice from Crown Law as to how to interpret the law. That is to be expected and it is correct that the police are asking for legal advice from Crown Law. But that legal advice should also be publicly released. Bush did not commit to that this morning but said he would seek advice from Crown Law on whether the advice should be made public.
There are no signs that the Police are going to release it, or their internal guidelines.
The special committee has been given the powers of the Privileges Committee. If the Crown Law advice and the guidelines are not provided by 5 pm Friday, the committee should use its powers under Standing Orders to demand they be produced.
The most concerning part of the committee session was when ACT MP David Seymour asked Bush what the legal basis was for the commissioner’s statement that people could not leave their suburbs.
Our suburb has no dairy, no supermarket and no pharmacy so if the Commissioner is correct, we’re stuffed.
Seymour rightly said Bush’s remarks were heavy-handed and also lacking in specificity. As such, they were not what the public needed from the police at this time.
What Kiwis require is clear and specific information about what we can and cannot do. And we also need to be very clear that this information is based on specific laws.
It was accordingly extremely disappointing that Bush replied to Seymour by thanking him for his advice and saying “I’ll certainly give it due consideration.” Those watching were left with the clear impression that Bush would give Seymour’s views no consideration at all.
In fact, Seymour was doing exactly what the country wants and needs from the committee at this time: seeking to hold the police to account.
Again the Police has a very clear job – to enforce the law. There are numerous reports of them going beyond this. One person was told by the Police they are not allowed to be swimming at the beach – despite them living by the beach. Unless Cabinet has passed a regulation or law saying you can’t go in the water, then the Police should be restricted to ensuring people are not congregating etc.