Thursday, November 26, 2009

The second secret bill

The House is now debating the second secret bill in the urgency motion: the Corrections (Use of Court Cells as Temporary Prisons) Amendment Bill. Again, its not online - but from the speeches, it grants Corrections an exemption to the RMA to allow them to house prisoners overnight in court cells which are also used during the day. The government writing itself an exception-of-convenience to the law it inflicts on everyone else is poor practice, but not controversial among MPs. What does seem to be getting some attention is the Regulatory Impact Statement, which rather than being attached to the front of the bill in the usual fashion is tucked away on the web here. And it has a stark warning:

The preferred option carries litigation risks, in that prisoners housed in court cells may claim that their treatment does not comply with provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act or other legislative requirements. It is also possible that New Zealand’s compliance with international conventions could be challenged. In this regard, the Chief Ombudsman has indicated that the Ombudsmen may issue adverse reports under Part 2 of the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 if their concerns are not addressed.
Those concerns would likely be similar to those around the use of police cells, which saw prisoners subjected to conditions worse than dogs, with no fresh air, natural light, exercise, or washing facilities. You can keep someone there for a few hours while they wait for their court appearance or while a jury is deliberating, or over a lunch-break - but longer stays are starting to get into the territory of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment, which is banned by both the Bill of Rights Act and international law. An Ombudsman's report would be the first stage of bringing that to global attention (the Ombudsman is our National Preventative Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture).

Naturally, Labour is voting for this bill. Can I have an opposition which takes human rights seriously, please?

Update: The bill is now online.