Andrew Little on abortion law reform

Fixing New Zealand’s abortion laws is currently being considered by the Government. Currently the laws are effectively not fit for purpose, being largely ignored but requiring women to make extreme claims.

Andrew Little: “Hard to gauge where the numbers are at at the moment, but I’m confident that we will get a change.”

It will be a conscience vote so won’t be subject to coalition arrangements, but what goes before Parliament will be decided by Cabinet which means Labour and NZ First ministers.

Little: “I’ve already expressed my support for one of the Law Commission recommendations, which was option C.”

  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

I also support Model C.

Edit: After some thought and a discussion (with a woman) I question whether 22 weeks is an appropriate cut off point. 15-18 weeks for effectively abortion on demand gives women (and girls) plenty of time to decide. If they haven’t decided by then it may be prudent to require a health practitioner to be more involved in the decision.

The chances of a foetus surviving at 22 weeks is minimal – according to studies between 2003 and 2005 the chances of a foetus surviving:

  • 21 weeks and less: 0%
  • 22 weeks:  0-3%
  • 23 weeks: 0-5%
  • 24 weeks: 20-35%
  • 25 weeks: 50-70%

In a Scientific Impact Paper published in February 2014:

‘[t]here is international consensus that at 22 weeks of gestation there is no hope of survival, and that up to 22+6 weeks is considered to be the cut-off of human viability.’

Abortion law reform has also been a sticking point with one of your coalition partners, NZ First. Where’s that at?

Yep, again, good discussions. It’s got to go through the process. It’s a little bit further behind the process than the cannabis-referendum-question issue.

So when can we see abortion removed from the Crimes Act?

Well, again, once Cabinet makes the decision — which, again, I expect will be in the next few weeks; it’ll be, you know, sooner rather than later than that — then we go through the process of legislation. And that’ll be depending on the timetabling in the house and what support it gets. It’s a conscious issue, so MPs from all sides of the house will have a chance to vote for it if they support it or vote against it if they don’t. Hard to gauge where the numbers are at at the moment, but I’m confident that we will get a change.

So where are you personally? Where are you personally now? Do you support the choice of a woman to abort up to 20 weeks?

I certainly… I’ve already expressed my support for one of the Law Commission recommendations, which was option C. Obviously, there’s details around that that are still up for negotiation. I’m confident that we will have a piece of legislation that will herald a significant change, but I can’t foretell what the house or Parliament collectively might decide or not.

Law Commission advice to the Minister of Justice (Little):

Publication date 26 October 2018

This ministerial briefing paper provides advice to the Minister of Justice on alternative approaches that could be taken in New Zealand’s abortion laws if the Government decides to treat abortion as a health issue.  It describes three alternative legal models:

  • Under Model A there would be no statutory test that must be satisfied before an abortion could be performed. The decision whether to have an abortion would be made by the woman concerned in consultation with her health practitioner.
  • Under Model B there would be a statutory test. The health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Under Model C, there would be no statutory test until 22 weeks of a pregnancy. After 22 weeks, the health practitioner who intends to perform an abortion would need to be satisfied that the abortion is appropriate in the circumstances, having regard to the woman’s physical and mental health and wellbeing.

Regardless of which model may be preferred, the briefing paper sets out several other changes that could be made to align the law with a health approach to abortion. They include:

  • Repealing the current grounds for abortion in the Crimes Act.
  • Removing the requirement for abortions to be authorised by two specially appointed doctors called ‘certifying consultants’.
  • Repealing the criminal offences in the Crimes Act relating to abortion. Instead, other offences in the Crimes Act and health legislation that currently exist would protect women from unsafe abortions. If Model B or C is adopted, an additional offence could be introduced in health legislation for people who perform abortions that don’t meet the statutory test. In no case would the woman be subject to an offence.
  • Allowing women to access abortion services directly, rather than having to get a referral from a doctor as they do under the current law.
  • Removing the current restrictions around who may perform an abortion and where abortions must be performed. Instead, the provision of abortion services would be regulated by appropriate health bodies, the same as any other health care procedure.
  • Moving the Abortion Supervisory Committee’s oversight responsibilities to the Ministry of Health.
  • Requiring health practitioners who do not wish to provide health services in relation to abortion because of a conscientious objection to refer women to someone who can provide the service.

Note: the briefing paper refers to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018 (Qld). The Bill was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 17 October 2018, shortly after the briefing paper was finalised for printing.


Law Commission – alternative approaches to abortion law overdue

Justice Minister Andrew Little seems intent on fixing archaic and unfit for purpose abortion laws this term. Good. About time.

Law Commission abortion law reform briefing received

Justice Minister Andrew Little received today the Law Commission’s briefing on alternative approaches to abortion law.

“Our abortion law is over forty years old, starts with the proposition that an abortion is a crime. In February, I asked the Law Commission for advice on treating abortion as a health matter could look like,” Andrew Little said.

“I would like to thank the Law Commission for its extensive work on the briefing paper. I asked the Commission to gather the public’s views, and they received comprehensive submissions,” said Andrew Little.

“I acknowledge that the subject of abortion is a personal one for each MP. I will be taking time to talk to my colleagues across all parties about the Law Commission’s briefing before progressing further,” Andrew Little said.

The Law Commission received just under 3,500 submissions from the public, as well as meeting with a range of health sector bodies in developing its briefing paper.

The Law Commission’s briefing examines what abortion law could look like if abortion was treated as a health issue. The paper outlines:

  • three models for when abortion is available
  • changes to:
    • the criminal aspects of abortion law
    • access to abortion services, where abortions are performed, and by whom
    • the oversight of abortion services
  • related issues, such as women’s informed consent, counselling services, and conscientious objection by health practitioners.

The Law Commission’s briefing paper is here.

This will go to a conscience vote, but surely well into the 21st century we should have sensible abortion laws.

The current law works in practice but it is demeaning for women.

Just about everyone uses some form of birth control these days. The world is badly overpopulated by humans.

Women who are not in a good position relationship, health or finance-wise are better deferring having a family until a better time.

I don’t see any practical difference between a women having say a couple of children then going onto birth control or her partner having a vasectomy, or a women having an abortion or two prior to having a couple of children and then relying on birth control. The end result is much the same.


Input wanted on Abortion Law Reform

The Law Commission has an Abortion Law Reform website and are asking for input into a review of the current laws covering abortions which are not fit for purpose and are overdue for a decent tidy up).

Law Commission – Abortion Law reform

We are advising the Government on how the law could treat abortion as a health issue

The Government is considering how best to ensure New Zealand’s abortion laws are consistent with treating abortion as a health issue.

To do that, it has asked the Law Commission for advice on what alternative approaches could be taken in the law to align with a health approach.

Specifically, the Government has asked us to review the criminal aspects of abortion law, the grounds for abortion and the process for receiving abortion services.

This website explains the current law and the process for receiving abortion services.

We want to hear your views as we develop our advice to the Government. You can provide input until 5pm on 18 May 2018.

We will provide our advice to the Government in October 2018.

Tell us your views

You can provide input until 5pm on 18 May 2018.

Blocking vexatious legal actions and other improvements

The Judicature Modernisation Bill, an omnibus bill that aims to simplify and modernise the law around how courts operate, is set to pass it’s final stage in Parliament today.

NZ Herald explains:

The main provisions stem from the Law Commission’s report on its review of the Judicature Act of 1908 – one of New Zealand’s oldest statutes still in force.

Most are not new, but are described with more modern language in an attempt to provide greater clarity.

The headline change – Courts to get powers to block vexatious legal action:

Orders will restrict people from starting or continuing civil proceedings that may have “limited, extended or general effect”.

The High Court will be able to issue three progressively stronger orders, and lower courts will be able to make similar but less restrictive orders.

The Government says this will provide greater flexibility for dealing with a small group of problem litigants who use up court time to pursue “meritless” action.

Access to justice and to legal remedies is very important, but this can be too easily abused by those using and misusing legal processes as a weapon.

Having been the target of a small group of ‘problem litigants’, and having discussed the limited power of the Court to prevent them from clogging up courts as a means of attacking people and trying to gag people with lawyers, it’s good to see this being addressed.

Labour will support the Bill at it’s third reading today but opposed requiring judges to retire at age 70. Jacinda Ardern said this was clear discrimination under the Human Rights Act but it must have passed that test to have got to it’s final stage.

However, the Government believes a retirement age is a necessary safeguard, which other countries have put in law.

Labour did succeed in changing the legislation to explicitly commit to parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. It will support the legislation during third reading tomorrow.

Other notable provisions in the 23 bill omnibus:

  • Allowing the use of electronic processes by courts. Currently, some activities such as the filing of documents can be legally performed using paper-based formats
  •  Improving the sharing of court information such as protection or restraining orders through information-sharing agreements permitted under the Privacy Act.
  • A new judicial panel will be set-up in the High Court to hear particular types of commercial cases.
  • Increasing the monetary limit of the District Court’s civil jurisdiction from $200,000 to $350,000.
  • Requiring final written judgments to be published online.

It will be for good final written judgments to be available to the public. I requested one recently and was told it would require the permission of the judge, I would have to explain why I wanted it, and I would have to pay for it. Open justice should mean open access to all judgments that aren’t subject to suppression orders.

Sexual violence law recommendations

Justice Minister Amy Adams is considering a Law Commission report that recommends significant changes to how sexual violence and assault cases are dealt with by the courts.

Many sexual complaints don’t even get to court, in part due to the stress and difficulties for complainants in sexual cases.

And many cases that do get to court are indecisive, with 8% of trials being retrials due to hung juries, compared to 0.8% of all trials.

In Report suggests no juries in rape trials NZ Herald lists key Law Commission recommendations:

A sexual violence court as a two-year pilot, with specialist judges and counsel.

  • Have District Court and High Court judges take training courses in order to sit on a sexual violence case.
  • Consider an alternative to juries in such cases — perhaps a specially trained judge alone or judge with two expert “lay assessors”.
  • Consider limiting the right to trial by jury in sexual violence cases.
  • Enable victims to seek redress such as an apology, and which wouldn’t lead to a conviction.
  • Ensure cases start in a timely fashion.

Sexual complaint cases can be particularly difficult due to the (often) lack of witnesses in incidents involving just the accused and the complainant, and also the many grey areas of what constitutes offences and what constitutes consent or lack of consent.

The Law Commission has also recommended providing an alternative process for certain lower-level cases, outside the criminal justice system.

Victims would initiate the process and seek redress such as an apology or payment and the perpetrator would not have a criminal record.

That sounds like potentially a good way of dealing with less serious cases.

There were also “powerful cultural conceptions” that were “unique to sexual violence as a form of criminal offending”.

These could include moral beliefs about how a woman should behave, and misplaced ideas about how sexual violence occurs or the “correct” response.

The commission concludes there is a case for eventually putting sexual violence cases before something other than a jury – perhaps a judge alone or judge with two expert “lay assessors”, as in Germany.

That also sounds like it is worth trying.

Dotcom and modernising extradition laws

Stuff recently reported that Kim Dotcom extradition appeal to be heard in August

Following the judgment in December they immediately launched an appeal and Justice Raynor Asher called a case review conference on Tuesday where he set a date for the appeal for August 29.

That would give him time to consider his decision and have a judgment ready before the end of the year, he said.

This was despite the United States asking for an earlier date, saying the appeal was of a matter of urgency.

No sign of urgency here, it is four years since Dotcom’s arrest.

Judge Nevin Dawson ruled the Mega moguls be eligible for extradition shortly before Christmas, following a lengthy nine week hearing at the North Shore District Court at Auckland.

He ruled the US had a “large body of evidence” which supported a prima facie case, and that Dotcom and his co-accused “fall well short of undermining the case.”

Dotcom and his Mega co-founders were back in the High Court at Auckland on Tuesday launching an appeal against an earlier District Court decision that he and his co-accused Mathias Ortmann, Fin Batato and Bram van der Kolk, were eligible for extradition to the United States on copyright charges.

David Fisher wrote Kim Dotcom might enjoy another summer

The charges relate to Dotcom’s Megaupload website, which was shut down in a global raid in 2012.

Yes, that’s four years ago.

The delays to this point have, to a great extent, been understandable. The Crown failed to cover itself in glory from the outset, and genuine questions needed judicial answers over discovery, illegal spying and search warrants.

The Crown today pushed for an earlier hearing but was defeated. The issues, said Dotcom’s team, were very complex and needed time to air. The High Court penciled in a date when the first signs of spring are starting to show.

Everyone can again display their expertise at length after the High Court scheduled the appeal for eight weeks from the end of August. That means it is scheduled to wander through to mid-October. Expect further appeals after that.

Guilty or not, liable for extradition or not, whatever — Dotcom looks likely to welcome in the 2017 New Year in New Zealand.

The Law Commission refers to the lengthy Dotcom extradition process in making recommendations for changes. The Herald reports Law change needed to tackle cross-border crime.

The growing problem of cross-border crime means the law should be changed to ensure New Zealand does its part, a review by the commission has concluded.

The report, released today, contains three key recommendations:

  • Requests from the vast majority of countries should be processed in the same way. Currently, the formal extradition steps vary considerably depending on which country is making the request, and treaties in place that are mostly over 100 years old.
  • Tailor-made rules should guide extradition proceedings. There should be a single appeal route, rather than the current regime that enables multiple and separate appeals and judicial reviews.
  • A new central authority should be created to manage all extradition requests. It would consider whether to commence an extradition proceeding, a call that would involve assessing the likelihood of success.

The Law Commission said making the extradition process more straightforward could be done at the same time as protecting the rights of the person sought.

The Law Commission has recommended that the court be given sole responsibility for deciding on nearly all of the grounds for refusal, with only a few grounds reserved for sole consideration by the Minister of Justice.

These recommendations won’t affect the Megaslow Dotcom case but if they are adopted they may speed cases up in the future.

It would help if the police didn’t cock things up in investigating and arresting people as well.

The Law Commission report: Modernising New Zealand’s Extradition and Mutual Assistance Laws

Popping alcopop popularity

The Alcohol Reform Bill aims at lopping the lapping of loaded lolly water.

Alcopops (RTD) – high sugar cordial type drinks with alcohol added – are believed to be a major contributor to drunkenness and binge drinking, especially amongst young women. They are being targeted in changes proposed in the Alcohol Reform Bill.

Facts from Independent Liquor and the Law Commission report the reforms are based on:

  • The most common drinkers of RTDs were 14 to 24-year-olds, particularly women.
  • RTDs made up 12% of the total alcohol market in New Zealand by volume.
  • Up to 180 million alcopops were sold in New Zealand each year
  • More than half of RTDs sold had an alcohol content of 6% or more
  • The majority of RTD sales were in off-licence stores, such as convenience stores, supermarkets and bottle shops.

I’ve checked an online bottle shop.

  • Alcohol content 5%, 7%, 8%
  • Can and bottle sizes 250ml, 330ml and 2 litre cartons
  • Most are between $2 and $3 dollars each (cartons $23-25).
  • A rough calculation – this is a half billion dollar per year industry

The Alcohol Reform Bill would ban off-licence stores from selling RTDs with more than 6% alcohol content and more than 1.5 standard drinks per container.

It is claimed this could significantly reduce sales. It seems likely it would at least force a change to lower alcohol content sales.

Obviously this will concern some in the liquor industry. Executives have met with Justice Minister Judith Collins and “urged her to quash a law change that will ban the sale of high-strength alcopops in bottle stores.”

Liquor industry fights RTD Bill

Managing directors from heavyweight drinks companies Bacardi, Jim Beam, Brown-Forman and Diageo were invited to the Beehive on Monday to discuss the alcohol reforms due to return to Parliament later this month.

They have told Mrs Collins policy that restricted the sale of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages unfairly targeted one part of the industry and threatened to breach international trade rules.

Distilled Spirits Association chief Thomas Chin said the industry was strongly opposed to the amendment, evident in the fact that senior members of four corporates had met the Minister.

“You can well imagine what’s at stake for their respective businesses. We’re talking about the highest-ranking officers – it demonstrates how serious the policy threat is to the businesses.”

Alcopops are often linked to what is called ‘preloading’ – getting pissed cheaply before going out clubbing.

The proposed restrictions will be opposed by some who think people should be free to choose for themselves what they drink, and how blotto they get.

The Law Commission (and I suspect a lot of MPs) think the change will help address a major alcohol problem.

This doesn’t affect me. I don’t drink RTDs, and rarely have.

What do the consumers think?