Maxim Institute - Real Issues - No. 123
this week: No. 123, 12 AUGUST 2004
* Non-hierarchical Supreme Court defies its purpose
* Hate Speech - The right not to be offended?
* New School provides more choice
Non-hierarchical Supreme Court defies its purpose
Setting up a new Supreme Court in New Zealand continues to create problems around ideals of authority and tradition. The Ministry of Justice plans to demolish large parts of the Wellington High Court building to create, for Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, a non-hierarchical court room. In this new committee-style courtroom the judge, lawyers and litigants will all be seated on the same level. The elevated bench is to disappear.
The Prime Minister, however, wants to protect the historic building and existing form of the court. It is a good principle for judges to "stick to the bench". Hierarchy is important after all. Judges need to be above the litigants precisely because they are making judgments. Ideally a crown (coat of arms) or national symbol should be above the judges to tangibly reinforce the fact that both the judiciary and litigants are subject to the same law.
Symbolism is obviously important to the Chief Justice, but it must reflect the reality that we can't have justice without authority and therefore, a form of hierarchy. Judges in New Zealand's highest court have full authority to make final binding decisions on a case. A non-hierarchical Supreme Court is an oxymoron.
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Hate Speech - The right not to be offended?
The launch of an inquiry into whether New Zealand should prohibit "hate speech" might reveal our willingness to trade freedom of expression for increasing state control of public conversation.
Freedom of speech is not absolute. Law and social stigma also play a role in discouraging undesirable comments. And, of course, there remain the necessary laws surrounding defamation.
Justice Minister Phil Goff has rightfully asserted that "the point of the inquiry cannot be to stop expression of hateful opinion, even if we utterly reject that opinion." Then he goes on to say, "It is when expression of that opinion risks leading directly to harm to the group against which it is directed that the law has a role to play." But should we hold someone legally liable for another person's reaction to what he or she says?
When we use the law to inhibit what people say, we transfer power away from the individual citizen, and their need to show personal responsibility, and onto the state.
At the heart of any theory of policing "hate speech" is the concept of thought control. It will intimidate all of us into particular ways of thinking. It is a tool that can too easily be employed by any government to silence those who express a contrary opinion.
The Government Administration committee intends to call for public submissions on the inquiry and has set a closing date for submissions of 5.00 pm on Friday, 1 October 2004. For more information on the terms of reference for the committee's inquiry visit:
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New School provides more choice
Students in the Taupo region will soon be able to attend a private school close to home. The Lake Taupo Development Company (which receives money from the local authority) has just secured a private provider to set up a 600-pupil co-educational, non-religious school in the region.
This is great news for the 1,000 Taupo students who currently travel outside the district to be schooled. It is also great news for parents in the community who have indicated, during consultation on the economic development strategy for the region, that they wanted a private school. The important question to be asked is why there is such demand for alternatives to state schools in the first place.
Parents recognise that their children are unique and that different children will excel in different schools. When it comes to schooling, "one-size" does not fit all, and parents will go to great lengths to choose the school that suits their children best.
However, only parents who can afford it will get this choice. All parents throughout New Zealand should be able to choose the best possible education for their children.
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THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Margaret Thatcher
Being democratic is not enough, for a majority cannot turn what is wrong into right. In order to be considered truly free, countries must also have a deep love of liberty and an abiding respect for the rule of law.
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Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.
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