Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Supreme Court and international law

SageNZ responds to my pointing out the cultural cringe inherant in those wanting to retain the Privy Council by comparing my views on a Supreme Court and multilateral institutions such as the WTO:

So as far as international trade is concerned world law is good. As far as Supreme Court of New Zealand is concerned it is better that we abandon any formal link we have with the advance of jurisprudence in Europe. What a buffoon.

The obvious error in the above is that the Privy Council does not represent a link with any sort of international law. The role of the Privy Council was always to interpret New Zealand law - something that we are now perfectly capable of doing for ourselves. While it also interpreted the law for Britian, Canada, Australia, Nigeria, Jamaica, and various other jurisdictions, their rulings on these matters were not binding precedent within New Zealand. That does not mean they were ignored - common law jurisdictions regularly notice and apply each other's decisions to analogous cases - but they were applied only insofar as they were relevant to New Zealand's needs. Again, that judgement is one we can now make for ourselves.

I do support international law in general, but there is no contradiction between that and the principle that New Zealanders should be the ultimate arbiters of our own domestic law - for the simple reason that they cover different spheres. New Zealand law governs relations between people in New Zealand (and, in a few cases, the actions of New Zealanders abroad). International law governs relations between nations, sets minimum standards for national legislation, or creates specialist jurisdictions for the hearing of certain cases (such as war crimes). These are two different areas, and if Sage cannot recognise that, it says far more about his lack of knowledge about legal systems than it does about my consistency.