Monday, September 12, 2011

Passing the buck

The government is currently trying to ram through its Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill before Parliament rises in October. But there's a problem: the bill's "reforms" - which include undermining the right to silence and the presumption of innocence and abolishing jury trials in almost all cases - are so odious that even the tame dogs in the Maori Party and the loons in ACT won't vote for them. So, National has been forced to compromise on some aspects of the bill. In particular, the proposal to force pretrial disclosure (which effectively forces defendants to give evidence against themselves by admitting any element of a crime they are not contesting) will be replaced:

[The] new clause would allow the Rules Committee, a panel of legal experts chaired by Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, to decide if a disclosure regime should be enforced, and if so, how.

The committee has responsibility for procedural rules in the court system, and relies on advice from judges, lawyers and other interested parties.

On the one hand, this clause is still odious. The right to silence is absolutely fundamental to a fair trial, and our judges should not have the power to abolish it like this. On the other, its also a fairly obvious fudge, allowing Power to back down without having to admit he's doing it. And on the third, by passing the buck like this, our MP's are effectively refusing to do their jobs as legislators. And if they're going to do that, if they're happy for judges to effectively make the law on fundamental rights, then lets go the whole way, make the BORA superior law, and give them the power to enforce it by striking down inconsistent laws.

Meanwhile, there's no word on whether National's squad of mercenaries and crazies - Roy (who is doing it in a clear quid pro quo to get back at student's associations), Dunne, Douglas and Calvert - are backing Power on abolishing juries or not. I hope not. This is a fundamental change to our constitution we're talking about here, and one which affects every single one of us. That's not the sort of thing which should pass by a narrow majority under end-of-session urgency. And if it does, then I think its time we emasculated Parliament and took the power to amend the BORA off them.