Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Howard's End: Say Something, Be Something

When the courts deal, as ours do, with great public questions, the only protection against unwise decisions, and even judicial usurpation, is careful scrutiny of their actions and fearless comment upon it. Judicial and political criticism of the public and the media at Mark Middleton's sentencing is misguided. John Howard writes.

For centuries, judicial independence has been a foundation of law. But judges, or politicians, cannot, and should not, live in a vacuum.

Judical independence can only ever be institutional independence - unlimited terms and guaranteed pay - and be a means to an end.

What New Zealand judges and politicians seem to be saying now, is that judicial independence is an end in itself, insisting on independence from everything - particularly the will of the people.

If the foundation of our democracy is, "the democratic will of the people expressed in Parliament", what happens when that expressed will is ignored by politicians?

It is simply misguided for politicians to criticise public outrage over something which the politicians themselves have failed to do. It now seems that views or attitudes of the public that the politicians do not share cannot be legitimate, believing that public views are coming from some ulterior motive or secret agenda.

Moreover, too often of late, soliloquies in Parliament are spoken to an almost empty chamber. The House of Representatives Parliamentary system, in my view, is broke.

Mark Middleton broke the law, that's clear. But the public supported him out of a sense of frustration that even after a huge petition and referendum at the last election seeking tougher sentencing, political action did not seem forthcoming - until now.

But judges, in keeping with public sentiment, had already started to increase non-parole periods for certain types of offenders. The public outrage from the Mark Middleton case means the judiciary is at fault for not explaining that much earlier.

In Australia, top judges regularly appear on television and radio with commentary about their functions. I suggested that to former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum some years ago, but nothing was done. Is it surprising, then, that public confidence in our judiciary and the judicial system is arguably at an all-time low?

Judges have to call it as they see it. To use an old saying, if we are to be a nation of laws and not of men, then judges must be impartial referees who defend our constitutional principles from attempts by particular interests to overwhelm them in the name of expediency.

But New Zealand doesn't have a "We the People" written constitution with fixed meanings for guidance. We have an unwritten, evolving and fluid constitution and because of that, I predict we can expect more public activism over other concerns in our society.

The little known story of Dimitar Pesev shows both the power of self-deception and the explosive effect of telling the truth and the dangers inherent in allowing the rule of law and the truth to succumb to political movements of the moment.

Pesev was the vice-president of the Bulgarian Parliament during World War II. He was a civil-servant, doing his job as best he could, raising his family and struggling through a terrible moment in European history.

Bulgaria was pretty lucky, because it managed to stay out of the fighting, even though the Nazis had placed the Bulgarian government and the king, under enormous pressure to enter the war on the side of the Axis, or at a minimum to permit the destruction of the Bulgarian Jews.

The leaders of the time were unwilling to turn their citizens over to certain death but, like many other small European countries, Bulgaria moved toward the Holocaust in small steps.

Pesev was one of many Bulgarian officials who heard rumours of a new government policy and constantly queried his ministers. They lied to him, and for a time he believed their lies. But, in the final hours, a handful of citizens from Pesev's hometown raced to Sofia to tell him the truth - that Jews were being rounded up, that the trains were waiting.

According to the law such actions were illegal. So Pesev forced his way into the office of the interior minister, demanding to know the truth. The minister repeated the official line, but Pesev didn't believe him. He demanded that the minister place a telephone call to the local authorities and remind them of their legal obligations.

This brave act, against the power of the government, saved the lives of the Bulgarian Jews. Pesev then circulated a letter to all members of Parliament, condemning the violation of the law, and demanding the government ensure that no such thing take place ever again.

Pesev's words moved all those who until that moment had not imagined what could happen but who now could not accept what they had discovered. He had broken through the wall of self-deception and forced his colleagues to face the truth.

There is no monument to this brave man, quite the contrary. The ministers were embarrassed and made him pay the price for their wickedness. He was removed from the position of vice-president, publicly chastised for breaking ranks, and politically isolated. But he had won nevertheless.

The king henceforth found ways to stall the Nazis, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church publicly defended the country's Jews and even the most convinced antisemites in the Bulgarian government dared not advocate active cooperation with the Third Reich.

After the war, the Communists took over Bulgaria and rewrote history giving themselves credit for saving the Jews. Pesev was sent to a gulag and his story was only rediscovered after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Were the actions of Pesev worth it? If Pesev wanted to be popular it was counterproductive to disagree with the government. If Pesev just wanted to tread water until the next holidays, it wasn't worth the agony. If Pesev just wanted to muddle through, it was not worth it.

So, to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news