Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Constitutional niceties"

Writing in the Herald, John Armstrong demonstrates why there is no hope for New Zealand political "journalism":

It is no-win for Labour. If the party's MPs back the bill, they will incur the wrath of legal purists who argue the legislation offends constitutional niceties on at least three counts. It has been drafted in haste. It is retrospective. And it is being rushed through Parliament under urgency.
Firstly, there's the misidentification of the problem. Haste and urgency are undesirable (and become more so the more the government makes a habit of them), but just the icing on the cake. And its no so much retrospectivity as what the bill is retrospective about.

I'll put it in really small words so that Armstrong can understand: the government is proposing to intervene in cases before the courts, changing the rules halfway through for the benefit of the prosecution. Both are an affront to the rule of law, the idea that no-one is above the law, no-one can be punished except by law, and that no-one can be convicted except by due process of law (consistency of process - not changing the rules halfway through to stack the deck for one party or another - is part of this). And that's not some "constitutional nicety", but what distinguishes us from arbitrary despotism.

A competent political journalist would be aware of these concepts. Sadly, for Armstrong it seems that they're above his pay-grade. If its not horse-race stuff, then he's just not interested.

Meanwhile, as for his argument about Labour having to give in or face being labelled "soft on crime", the government is planning to let the police off for knowingly and systematically breaking the law. How's that for "soft on crime"? Or is it only "crime" if its done by brown people, rather than the boys in blue?