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NZers Must Decide If Privy Council Stays or Goes

New Zealanders Should Decide Whether Privy Council Stays or Goes

ACT is promoting a cross party movement of MPs to press for a referendum on the abolition of our rights of appeal to the Privy Council. ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today wrote to political parties asking for their support for a citizens-initiated referendum on the issue.

"ACT is sponsoring Mr Dennis Gates' application, but we want it to be a multi-party process. The outcome of such a referendum is not the main point at this stage - giving the ultimate decision to the people is most important," Mr Franks said.

"A referendum is a matter of elementary respect for the people. Our constitution is the property of the people of New Zealand, not of politicians to change and tinker with as they wish. All politicians should uphold and develop a protective convention against significant constitutional changes without a very clear mandate from New Zealanders.

"The separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive is important. If the Executive can use its voting strength in Parliament to change Courts when they like, the separation looks like a sham. A core function of our Courts is to protect citizens against abuses of Government power. Courts should not appear to exist at the whim of a bare majority in Parliament. It is quite wrong for a government to use its voting power, and the power to buy the votes of other parties, to abolish the Privy Council.

"MPs can endorse the constitutional principle across party lines. ACT will also have an amendment to make a referendum a requirement of the Supreme Court Bill itself. The commencement date of the Bill would be deferred until after that referendum. That vote would supersede Mr Gates' citizen's initiated referendum petition.

"Either way a referendum will provide a clear mandate for any constitutional change. It will confer authority on a new Supreme Court of New Zealand if we decide to abolish our right of appeal to the Privy Council. Without that mandate any new court will be seen as a creature of the ruling party.

"National's Spokesman Richard Worth last night told the Wellington District Law Society National would repeal the Supreme Court Bill if Ms Wilson forces it through. ACT would support that if it were feasible, if the people have not endorsed it, but it is highly undesirable for our top Court to be in such a position. The referendum is imperative to ensure our top Court is not a political football," Mr Franks said.

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