Unitec Claims for Breach of Constitutional Rights
THURSDAY, 20 JANUARY 2004
Media Statement from the Chief Executive of Unitec New Zealand, Dr John Webster,
Unitec Claims Millions in Compensation for Breach of Constitutional Rights
The Chief Executive of Unitec said today that the institution plans to seek Bill of Rights compensation to the tune of more than $3.5 million for losses incurred as a direct result of multiple breaches by the Government of its constitutional rights. Proceedings will be filed in the High Court against the Minister of Education and the NZQA tomorrow.
"Our case relies upon fundamental constitutional principles.
Essentially, the Government has not complied with the law. It has breached article 1 of the Bill of Rights 1688 by purporting to suspend the operation of the Education Act without the consent of Parliament. It has breached chapter 29 of the Magna Carta 1297, which says that justice delayed is justice denied. It has breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and ignored the administrative law rules of natural justice.
"We have been trying to get our application for university status considered since 1999, and we are still waiting.
"The Government's own lawyers have told them that the suspension of our application in May 2000 by the NZQA, at the instance of the Minister, was illegal. The Minister and the NZQA finally started going through the motions of considering our application in October 2004, but the Minister has declined to give us any assurances as to the integrity and timeliness of the assessment process.
"All we ask is that our application be determined fairly, reasonably, and in a timely manner. No other tertiary institution that has lodged an application under the Education Act has been treated in this way. Unitec has suffered significant loss as a consequence of unlawful actions by the Minister and the NZQA, and $3.5 million is a conservative estimate of that loss.
"Although the Government is now trying to create an impression that it is considering our application, we have lost confidence that our application will ever be determined fairly and reasonably without judicial intervention.
"We will be asking the Court to put our case on a fast track and to give us an urgent hearing. We are seeking declarations to acknowledge officially that what happened to Unitec should not have happened and should not continue to happen.
"The Unitec Council has made every possible effort to find an alternative way forward, but the introduction of a Government Bill making retrospective changes to the law relating to applications for university status led Council to conclude that it had no choice but to file proceedings. We have since obtained a range of documents confirming that the Government intends to pass the Bill urgently before our application can be determined.
"Thankfully, all the non-Government parties have expressed opposition to the retrospective elements of the Bill, and we have been heartened by the constructive suggestions made by some key members of the Select Committee - such as the formation of a university of technology category within the Act. But the Government has given no commitment to pursue these ideas.
"The Government clearly realises that Unitec meets the criteria for university status, otherwise they would not have gone to such extraordinary lengths to impede the assessment of our application.
"They have a very traditional view of what a university is, and appear to be seriously out of touch with developments in tertiary education around the world."