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Wilson neglecting gatekeeper duties

The Attorney-General is failing in her duty to uphold respect for the law, according to ACT’s Justice Spokesman, Stephen Franks.

Mr Franks said today he was becoming increasingly concerned that the Attorney-General was not fulfilling the historic dual role of Cabinet Minister and guardian, within the Government, of the rule of law.

“Traditionally this guardianship involves defending the judges from unfair political criticism and ensuring that Ministers do not overstep the bounds for cheap political gain.

“The Prime Minister claimed last week that poor police attitudes to Maori had a bearing on the Waitara shooting. This can only be an accusation of police racism. If true, the police are in breach of Sections 21 and 65 of the Human Rights Act. The claim inflamed people all over the country. Instead of taking the heat out of the aftermath, she has sabotaged the healing potential of both the Police Complaints Authority, and the extra inquiries she promised after criticism of her first statement.

“By her statement, Ms Clark placed her anti-police prejudices (and need for headlines) above leadership. But more serious is her contempt for calm, objective investigation, values that sustain the rule of law.

“Where was the Attorney General, Margaret Wilson last Thursday evening, when it was left to Police Minister George Hawkins to warn his leader that conclusions are better expressed after the facts are tested, and after both sides have been heard?

“The Race Relations Act (now in the Human Rights Act) was intended to prohibit unsubstantiated public discussion that could ignite racial division. The drafters of the law knew of the risks to free speech, but thought the risks of racial division were a worse evil.

“That law gives the Prime Minister and the Attorney General gatekeeper powers. For example no prosecution for inciting racial disharmony can go ahead without the consent of the Attorney General.

Stephen Franks said there had also been questions in legal circles about the Attorney General, Margaret Wilson’s failure to produce a statement under section 7 of the Bill of Rights in relation to the conflicts with freedom of speech in the Employment Relations Bill. “Her position as Minister of Labour seems to have taken priority.”

“It seems that an early, unannounced change to our constitution may be that the Attorney General in New Zealand is not independent when it comes to defending the rule of law. If so, there are gaps in the protections we thought we had,” said Stephen Franks.


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