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Government breached Bill of Rights - High Court

7 July 2005

Government breached Bill of Rights, says High Court

The Government acted unlawfully in its handling of Unitec’s university application, breaching the Bill of Rights Act 1688, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the rules of natural justice, the High Court in Wellington has found.

Unitec CEO Dr John Webster said that today’s High Court findings, while welcome, only increased his reservations about the ability of the Government to deal fairly with Unitec’s long-standing application for university status.

The case was heard by Justice Miller and, in his judgment released today, he said that the Government had unlawfully suspended Unitec’s university application in 2000, breached the rules of natural justice by reason of delay between the end of 2000 and January 2003, and that the then-Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education), the Hon Steve Maharey, had breached the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act by reason of delay during that same period. He also found a breach of Article 1 of the Bill of Rights 1688 for unlawful suspension of the execution of the law.

Dr Webster said the Court’s decision showed the Government had deliberately blocked Unitec’s application to be established as a university, despite the strength of Unitec’s case.

Unitec applied for university status in 1999 and filed legal papers in January 2005 after finally losing patience with the Government over continuing delays in progressing the application. The High Court found that the Minister should have made a decision in 2000.

Dr Webster said there was a very general concern that the Minister of Education’s final decision on Unitec’s application, which is currently pending, would not be fair and even-handed.

“The High Court agrees that the Government acted illegally when they first received our application,” Dr Webster said. “And I wonder if the Minister can now make his final decision on the merits of our case, without being influenced by his own central role in the events covered in this judgment.

“We have received a huge amount of support from industry, local government and the community. The Government’s actions have clearly operated against the best interests of Unitec and the communities we serve.

“As Justice Miller said, the Court is not concerned with the content of the government’s education policy, or to restrain its freedom to develop that policy. The Court is only concerned that the means employed to implement the policy should not contravene the law.”

ENDS

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