Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Labour to courts: Fuck you

Back in December, the High Court triggered a judicial earthquake, with a ruling that the Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Act 2015 (passed under all-stages urgency after Australia started duping their problems on us) was inherently punitive, and therefore would constitute retrospective punishment, and so could not be applied retrspectively. It was an entirely orthodox ruling, building on several recent judgements which called bullshit of the government's increasing practice of treating people like criminals (and subjecting them to sentence-like restrictions) while claiming that it wasn't a "punishment". But it obviously upset the Labour government, which desperately wants to kick people to appear "tough on crime", and which doesn't think mere judges should be able to say what the law actually means. So today they responded, introducing an amendment bill to over-ride the decision and ensure that they can continue to punish people retrospectively and multiple times for the same offence, in violation of the Bill of Rights Act. And naturally, they're passing it under all-stages urgency...

The bill has of course resulted in its own s7 report, a formal notification by the Attorney-General to Parliament that it is inconsistent with the BORA. But the Attorney-General undercuts his own advice, saying that he has been forced to issue the report by the court's decision (which he disagrees with; the court of course has already judged his reasons for that disagreement and found them wanting). But because Parliament will be under all-stages urgency, there will be no select committee process, and so the scrutiny such a report usually engenders will be absent. Instead, they'll ram it through, with this level of "scrutiny".

This is no way to treat human rights, and no way to treat our constitution. It also reveals the inherent conflict-of-interest in having section 7 notices given to Parliament by an Attorney-General who is a member of the executive, and therefore bound to support the government's position no matter what. At the least, it shows that this job needs to be done by an independent officer of parliament, rather than the House effectively taking legal advice from someone else's lawyer, pushing someone else's agenda. In the meantime, if MPs are wondering why so many of us think the job of being the ultimate arbiter of human rights should be taken off them and given to the courts (by making the BORA supreme and allowing other laws to be overturned for inconsistency), this sort of behaviour is why.