Friday, June 09, 2006

Sedition on Nine to Noon

Nine to Noon had a discussion of yesterday's sedition verdict this morning, featuring Ursula Cheer of the University of Canterbury and Barry Wilson of the Auckland Council for Civil Liberties. Both criticised the law for being overly broad, and noted that a lot of what we would regard as legitimate protest and genuine political speech is covered by it. Cheer gave an overview of the history of the law and how it tended to be used in times of social disorder - though it was noted that ordinary public order laws were considered sufficient to deal with the disorder surrounding the 1981 Springbok Tour - a case where sedition laws would seem to be far more applicable. If sedition was not needed then, then it can hardly be argued to be needed now.

Wilson pointed out that America's sedition law (18 USC 115 s2385) is interpreted very strictly to require a "clear and present danger" of immediate violence, which reduces it to effectively a conspiracy charge and provides far greater protection of free speech that our law. He also mentioned the cases of Annette Sykes (which I've been meaning to blog about for some time) and Ormond Burton, who was imprisoned in 1942 for making an appeal to pacifism. While the latter was an attack on free speech, strictly speaking it wasn't sedition, as IIRC the charge related to interfering with the war effort and discouraging recruiting, rather than exciting disaffection or inciting lawlessness (the same applies to the case of James Kellman).

There was some discussion of the Bill of Rights Act and the prospects for an appeal, as well as the possibility of the Law Commission reviewing the law. The latter is long overdue, but I'd rather go for straight repeal. As Cheer said, there are plenty of offences which already cover incitement to violence, and it would be better to use them rather than risk criminalising genuine political speech.

The most amusing bit was when Cheer was asked whether others were committing offences under the Act - "people on blogs, for example". Nice to see that we're viewed as a hotbed of sedition by the responsible media...