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Parliament committee debates judge race criteria

Parliamentary Committee Debates Race Criteria for Appointing Judges to New Court

Race politics lurk in proposals to replace access to the Privy Council with an indigenous New Zealand final court of appeal, ACT justice spokesman Stephen Franks says.

"This is reflected in last Thursday's Justice and Electoral Select Committee report on budget estimates for the Attorney General's activities.

"The report records the enthusiasm of Labour, United Future and the Greens for a proposal meaning `at least one member of the court will be of Maori ancestry'.

"While the Opposition parties agreed that `knowledge of tikanga Maori is appropriate', they objected to a proposed convention `that could mean the only current Maori High Court judge will be appointed ahead of more experienced and more able judges of the Appeal Court'.

"The issue is a no-brainer for ACT. The law should be colour blind and all appointments to the new court made on merit," Mr Franks said.

"Other racial tensions emerged when the committee questioned Margaret Wilson about alleged Maori support for the abolition of Privy Council appeal rights. The Crown Law Office carefully distanced itself from any knowledge of negotiation with Maori groups. Until last Thursday when the committee reported, the Attorney General's Office had provided no evidence to back up Ms Wilson's statements.

"It still hasn't arrived.

"The Privy Council and the Treaty are closely-linked issues. A visiting Privy Council judge, Lord Steyn, has openly argued at Victoria University lectures over the past fortnight, for constitutionalisation of the Treaty of Waitangi. He thinks it should be done by Parliament but if Parliament won't, then by judges simply asserting the Treaty's constitutional force in decisions.

"This means the status and composition of our final appeal court should be a matter of vital interest to the Treaty grievance industry - and of course to New Zealanders who support ACT's policy that our law must be colour blind and treat all New Zealanders equally on merit", Stephen Franks said.

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