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Referendum On Appeals To Privy Council Approved

Rt Hon Winston Peters
Stephen Franks MP
Richard Worth MP

Thursday July 3, 2003

Referendum On Appeals To Privy Council Approved

ACT, National and New Zealand First today welcomed the official approval of the wording of the petition to ensure voters get a say on Labour’s plan to abolish our longstanding legal right of final appeal to the Privy Council in London. Each party will promote the collecting of signatures to the petition.

The Citizens’ Initiated Referenda Act 1993 requires the approval of the Clerk of Parliament to the wording of the question. The Clerk has approved sponsor Dennis Gates’ request and the question reads:

“Should all rights of appeal to the Privy Council be abolished?”

We have until July 2 2004 to collect the signatures of at least 10 percent of eligible voters. With those signatures we can force the Government to hold a referendum on the question. That will require approximately 310,000 valid signatures, on present numbers of registered electors.

Members of our respective parties will take the petition forms out for signature. We will also send petition forms out by email. We will take every opportunity to ensure that people get a chance to show Attorney General Margaret Wilson that she can’t treat our highest court as Labour Party property – to be disposed of, or replaced, to suit their political whim.

We will continue our efforts to ensure that the Supreme Court Bill, presently before Select Committee, includes a provision to require a referendum before it takes effect.

If United Future or the Green Party decides to collude in a deal with the Government, the Supreme Court Bill will pass. It will sack our entire top court and appoint new judges to a new court to suit the Government’s plan. The petition and the referendum will be a chance for voters to say whether they want an incoming Government to reverse the changes before too much damage has been done.

The debate over the referendum will allow New Zealanders who care about the independence of the judiciary, its political neutrality and the advantages of court hearings away from Wellington’s tight little politically correct establishment circles, to tell the Government that constitutional changes should be made only with the consent of the people.

A referendum will focus attention on the current Court of Appeal’s performance, and on the character and experience of the candidates for the positions on the new court, and their political affiliations. It will ensure there is a debate over Ms Wilson’s plan to make appointments to the new court on the basis of race and preferment. It may result in the new court starting under a cloud, or at least under very close scrutiny from people concerned about the processes by which it has been established. This is simply the price of democracy and consultation.

New Zealand First, National and ACT believe there will be many people who will want to hear the arguments over replacing our Privy Council access. They will want to know how much it will cost, and what will be sacrificed to pay for it. They will want to know why it is that decisions of our Appeal Court have been overturned so often in recent years, and why most of the legal profession does not favour Ms Wilson’s replacement proposal.

We expect people to support the petition for a referendum as a matter of principle, even if they intend to vote in favour of abolishing the right of appeal, because the referendum respects their rights, and gives them a chance to have their say.

Many will sign because such a decision should not be at the whim of a particular government or political party.

We want to firmly establish a convention that substantial constitutional changes should not be made by a bare majority vote of a coalition of minorities in Parliament. We look forward to this campaign.

ENDS


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