More Bill of Rights scrutiny a good idea

Stuff reports:

The National Party wants a stronger debate over whether new laws breach New Zealand’s Bill of Rights, saying that the Government’s own vetting of new legislation is lacking.

Shadow Attorney-General Chris Penk said that the Government’s vetting of new laws like the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, hadn’t identified rights breaches when it should have done. An alternative view from the opposition is needed, he said.

This is an excellent idea.

The quality of BORA reports can vary greatly. The most infamous was around the Electoral Finance Bill in Clark’s third term. The BORA report said there was no inconsistency with the Bill of Rights Act even though the EFB would have required anyone spending even $1 on expressing a political view in election year to sign a statutory declaration.

So the Government’s BORA reports are not infallible. They are an opinion.

He might not get very far. Tabling a section 7 report would require no objection from other MPs, but Parker has said he’d object to alternative reports being given an airing in Parliament.

“Section 7 reports under the Bill of Rights Act are carefully and independently done in an apolitical way by Ministry of Justice officials, unless they’ve got a conflict in which case it’s down by Crown Law, and then I table their advice,” Parker said.

That is not correct. The Attorney-General can (and past ones have) write the S7 reports themselves. The reports are in the name of the AG, who is both a law officer and a politician.

Penk’s first report looks at the Government’s Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, which is meant to change the way sexual violence is dealt with in the courts, particularly by tightening what sort of evidence is permissible in sexual assault trials.

While Parker’s report on the Bill concluded that it was consistent with the Bill of Rights, Penk concluded that it unjustifiably breached rights guaranteeing a person accused of a crime a minimum standard of trial.

Having Parliament debate whether laws infringe our rights under the Bill of Rights Act is a good thing.

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