Ministerial Interference May Affect Human Rights Commission
Ministerial Interference Could Affect Independence of Human Rights Commission
Proposed amendments to the Human Rights Act seriously affect the Human Rights Commission’s ability to act independently of government, Kim Workman, spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment, told the Justice and Electoral Committee yesterday.
In his oral submission on the Human rights Amendment Bill, Mr Workman told the Select Committee that internationally, human rights institutions are judged on their ability to operate freely and without government interference. “Those requirements are set out in the Paris Principles, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993.”
“This proposed legislation breaches those rights, in that the Chief Commissioner can only determine the extent to which Commissioners engage in activities, and allocate work, after consultation with the Minister.”
“Such a requirement would be unremarkable in a government agency, or crown owned enterprise. But the Human Rights Commission is a different vehicle. It is an organisation which is judged nationally and internationally, on the extent to which it is able to discharge its responsibilities independent of government.”
“Its effect is not simply to allow the Minister to interfere with the Chief Commissioner’s authority, and ultimately his or her integrity. It requires the Minister to co-manage the institution, and direct its operation.”
Mr Workman said that Rethinking was concerned about the implications for the criminal justice sector. “Of the eleven pieces of legislation passed in breach of the Bill of Rights over the last three years, eight of them directly impacted on offenders and prisoners. If the responsible Minister, who is also the Minister of Justice, can direct the Human Rights Chief Commissioner away from work in the criminal justice sector, then issues such as structural discrimination in the justice sector, will go unattended.”