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Abolishing Privy Council Dangerous, Says Prebble

The Prime Minister’s statement that the government was proposing to abolish New Zealanders’ right to appeal court decisions to the Privy Council is the most disturbing constitutional change being promoted by this government, said ACT leader Richard Prebble.

“This government’s contempt for the appropriate consultative processes on constitutional matters is a matter for great concern. Neither Labour nor the Alliance have any electoral mandate to alter our court system.”

“But as the Government has just shown by its willingness to abolish knighthoods, the lack of a mandate they regard as no bar,” he said.

“One also notes that whenever Helen Clark says that something is quaint, what she means is that she intends changing it. The Government has shown from its sponsorship of a constitutional conference last weekend, its abolition of knighthoods, and now its claim that “it’s a matter of time” before the Privy Council goes that it has a secret agenda to radically change our Westminster constitution.”

Mr Prebble said it was ACT’s view that no Government has the right to remove appeals to the Privy Council without putting the issue to the public in a referendum.

“The Privy Council has proved itself over and over to be a necessary safeguard. It’s interesting to note that the majority of appeals to the Privy Council have been successful. This is the same as saying that the New Zealand courts have got it wrong. The issues that the Privy Council hears are invariably very important,” he said.

“It is also interesting that Parliament and the public very rarely disagree with the Privy Council’s decisions.”

Mr Prebble said this could be because the Privy Council has had more time to consider the issue.

“It could be because the Privy Council is more objective. It’s hard for the New Zealand courts, in a country that’s so small, to achieve the degree of objectivity that is needed in big emotional cases. It might also be that the Privy Council is the world’s second highest common law court after the US Supreme Court and so has the advantage of drawing judges from a much bigger talent pool.”

“Only a moment’s thought, which clearly Miss Clark hasn’t done, would show that it’s impossible for New Zealand to duplicate the advantages of the Privy Council.”

Mr Prebble spoke from personal experience when he said the Privy Council was an important safeguard for the rule of law. He appeared before the Privy Council in 1995 in a case against Television New Zealand.

“As a lawyer, I have always been a supporter of the Privy Council. As the only MP to have taken a case to the Privy Council I believe I am uniquely qualified top discuss the courts merits. I was enormously impressed not just by the quality of the judges’ decisions (not just because I won) but also by the speed that the court worked and how cheap it was to bring the case. My appeal to the Privy Council cost me less money than the original appeal in the New Zealand Court of Appeal,” he said.

“I have also noticed that academics who have written about my case in law journals are in total agreement that the New Zealand Court of Appeal got it wrong and the Privy Council got it right.”

ENDS

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