Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sedition in Rotorua

This morning's Herald has a good piece about the Law Commission's report on sedition, including some comments by Geoffrey Palmer. But it also has this astounding snippet:

Last month police laid another sedition charge in the Rotorua District Court against a youth who is also charged with threatening to kill. Details have been suppressed but Sir Geoffrey said that, again, he could not see why police used the sedition law when other charges were available.

"They have never charged anyone for 50 years. Now they have just remembered it."

I'm currently seeking information on this case, and it will be interesting to see what the youth is alleged to have said. Meanwhile, the Police's sudden interest in the law suggests that it is dangerous to just leave it hanging around on the statute book. It must be repealed ASAP.


Wondering I/S - do you have a great problem with what the Herald have termed Australia's new 'sedition' laws? Or with any of the particular things it criminalises?

I note there is nothing as free-speech-chilling as anything like inciting disaffection against the Queen.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/17/2006 11:13:00 AM

I agree with I/S that the law needs to be repealed. The way Clark is hitting-out at all and sundry these days, it's only a matter of time before the entire Nat caucus are arrested at midnight under the Act's auspices.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/17/2006 11:50:00 AM

Graeme: Yes. While the Australian law targets urging violence or the overthrow of the government or of violence between groups, it contains insufficient protection for freedom of speech. In particular, it does not require ulterior intention on behalf of the urger that violence actually occur (and allows prosecutions for "recklessness" to boot). With the law as written, there is some concern that it could be applied to those who strongly criticise government policy, or to journalists and artists, resulting in a strong chilling effect (remember, there is no general protection for freedom of speech in Australian law, only an implied narrow protection for political speech). The Australian Law Reform Commission has gone some way towards addressing these concerns, recommending amending the law to ensure that the urging at least be intentional and providing greater protection for political speech - but these amendments have been rejected by the Australian government. The obvious conclusion is that artists, journalists and political opponents are exactly the sort of people whose speech the Howard government wants to chill.

But even if the ALRC's recommendations were accepted, I would still be concerned about the lack of ulterior intention. In a free and democratic society, everything should be up for discussion - even violence. Saying that revolution is necessary for a better society, or that people have a right to defend themselves against violence by the police (both examples which have drawn sedition prosecutions in NZ) should not be a criminal offence. People should only be prosecuted when they cross the line into actual incitement or conspiracy to commit an actual crime - not for disagreeable views, strong rhetoric, or words alone. That's the position taken by the NZLC, and its one I wholeheartedly endorse.

(Further posts on the Australian sedition law are here, here, and here)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/17/2006 12:31:00 PM

M'Lud: I was going to say that sedition prosecutions historically haven't happened under Labour governments - but we now have not one but two counterexamples to that. And yes, I agree - a government with the same lack of respect for freedom of speech as e.g. Bill Massey's could interpret National's increasingly extremist rhetoric and claims that the election was "stolen" as exciting disaffection against the government, encouraging disorder or even hatred and violence between different groups, and launch a prosecution. I don't think its likely, but its certainly possible under the law as it stands.

Unfortunately, National doesn't seem to have considered this possibility (they never do); Richard Worth opposes repeal.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/17/2006 12:42:00 PM

If memory serves, there are already reasonably tough criminal sanctions for threatening to kill.

Obviously there are only a relatively small number of threatened persons likely to be 'protected' not only by this routine criminal sanction, but by sedition on top of it (HC, ER or the GG).

Posted by dc_red : 10/18/2006 06:10:00 AM