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Habeas Corpus Bill Makes Law And History

Rangitikei MP Simon Power became only the second Opposition MP since 1991 to have a Private Member's Bill become law when the Habeas Corpus Bill was passed in Parliament last night.

The Habeas Corpus Bill, first proposed by National List MP Alec Neill, was introduced to Parliament on 1 July 1999. Following the 1999 election, Simon Power was awarded custody of the Bill in Alec Neill's absence.

The Habeas Corpus Act puts into statue the writ of habeas corpus - traditionally directed to a person who detained another person, commanding him to produce the 'body' of the detainee to the court for the purpose of 'subjecting' the lawfulness of the detention to the court's scrutiny and subsequent directions. If no lawful justification was produced, the detainee was released.

The Bill stemmed from a Law Commission report on Habeas Corpus procedure. The Law Commission points out that Habeas Corpus can be obtained in New Zealand only through the use of English procedures intended for English Courts. That process is neither straightforward nor, given the writ's constitutional importance, appropriate.

"The right to seek a writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional safeguard against the oppression of the individual through arbitrary arrest and detention.

"It is easy enough to affirm, as the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act does, that everyone has a right not to be arbitrarily arrested or detained. But a right without a remedy is an empty thing indeed. This Act provides that remedy," Simon Power said.

The only other Opposition bill to be passed in the last 10 years was one from Labour MP Trevor Mallard on teacher registration in 1993.

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