Andrew Little on the legal balance between freedom of speech and hate speech

Minister of Justice Andrew Little on freedom of speech versus protecting people from hate speech.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms our right to freedom of expression, including the right to impart and receive opinions of any kind. Protecting freedom of speech is crucial to our democracy and the ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully.

But in the immediate wake of the March 15 mosque attacks, many citizens from minority ethnic and religious communities told of how opinions and statements they routinely see on social media and other public platforms make them feel threatened, unwelcome and alienated.

A responsible government must consider these claims, and on a principled basis.

Consequently I have asked the Ministry of Justice to work with the Human Rights Commission to examine whether our laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech. The process should not be rushed, and I expect a report for public comment towards the end of the year.

Drawing the line is not simple. Protecting freedom of speech that challenges authority and orthodoxy will inevitably still cause offence to some.

But just being offensive or disagreeable does not necessarily make something harmful. Controversial issues in New Zealand, such as immigration policy or indigenous rights and reconciliation with the Treaty of Waitangi, will continue to be the subject of public debate. And so they should.

Protecting our crucially important right to freedom of speech, while testing whether the balance is right regarding “hate speech”, needs a robust public discussion from all quarters. This way we will ensure that all of our citizens’ rights are protected, and every person can express their humanity without fear.

Clear definitions of ‘hate speech’ and ‘harmful’ will be crucial. In current law there is quite a high bar to prove ‘harmful’.

Note that this details an examination of whether current laws get the balance right or not. There is no certainty that the laws will be changed or not.

I think that many people have been jumping to conclusions and scaremongering about this.

The best way of dealing with it is to engage in process, to the extent of contributing to rational discussion on whether our current laws are fit for purpose.

Full op-ed at NZ Herald:


Hate speech threatens our right to freedom of speech

OPINION by Andrew Little

Protecting freedom of speech is vital to hold those in authority to account, challenge the socially and culturally dominant, and enable society to progress.

Freedom of speech can give force to new ideas, but also cause discomfort and offence. It is usually the first right to be lost under oppressive regimes, and among the first to be restored, at least in name, after revolutionary change.

The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms our right to freedom of expression, including the right to impart and receive opinions of any kind. Protecting freedom of speech is crucial to our democracy and the ability of all citizens to participate meaningfully.

But in the immediate wake of the March 15 mosque attacks, many citizens from minority ethnic and religious communities told of how opinions and statements they routinely see on social media and other public platforms make them feel threatened, unwelcome and alienated.

Others have said these types of statements allow a climate to develop that is tolerant of harmful discriminatory expression.

A responsible government must consider these claims, and on a principled basis.

Consequently I have asked the Ministry of Justice to work with the Human Rights Commission to examine whether our laws properly balance the issues of freedom of speech and hate speech. The process should not be rushed, and I expect a report for public comment towards the end of the year.

The context for this stocktake is not just the horrific events in Christchurch, but also the history of free speech protection in New Zealand.

The reality is we already have laws to protect against what we call “hate speech”, which are the Human Rights Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act. These criminalise incitement of racial disharmony through written or verbal expression, and refusal to remove social media posts which are bullying or include humiliating intimate information about someone.

Is it right that we have sanctions against incitement of disharmony on racial grounds but not, for example, on grounds of religious faith?

And how could there be any limitations on free speech, in light of the Government’s obligation under the Bill of Rights Act to protect it?

Our Bill of Rights draws on worldwide traditions to uphold basic human rights. The law has a close family link to one of the founding documents of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration upholds freedom of thought and religion and the right to hold opinions “without interference”. But, forged in an international effort determined to eliminate the hatred and discrimination that drove World War II, it also called on us all to act towards one another in a spirit of “brotherhood”, and affirmed the right of every person to be protected against discrimination.

It drew on the revolutionary charters of the Enlightenment, the United States and French constitutions. Both protected free speech, with the Americans emphasising the equality of all people and the French stating liberty is the freedom to do anything which doesn’t harm others.

When speech threatens others, or is abusively discriminatory, then it has the potential to cause harm and encroach on the freedom of others.

As with the heritage that inspired it, our Bill of Rights recognises what it describes as justified limitations. It does so to ensure the exercise of a freedom by one person does not deny freedom to others.

Drawing the line is not simple. Protecting freedom of speech that challenges authority and orthodoxy will inevitably still cause offence to some.

But just being offensive or disagreeable does not necessarily make something harmful. Controversial issues in New Zealand, such as immigration policy or indigenous rights and reconciliation with the Treaty of Waitangi, will continue to be the subject of public debate. And so they should.

Protecting our crucially important right to freedom of speech, while testing whether the balance is right regarding “hate speech”, needs a robust public discussion from all quarters. This way we will ensure that all of our citizens’ rights are protected, and every person can express their humanity without fear.

Justice Minister says hate speech laws ‘very narrow’ with gaps

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has said that New Zealand hate speech laws are too narrow and there were gaps in the law, but also said that any changes needed to be robustly debated.

RNZ:  Current hate speech law ‘very narrow’ – Justice Minister Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says gaps exist in current laws around hate speech and what should be considered an offence.

Mr Little announced on Saturday that he was fast-tracking the review, which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

Mr Little told Morning Report today the current law specific to hate speech offences was “very narrow”.

“It applies to inciting racial disharmony, it doesn’t relate to expressions that incite discrimination on religious grounds or identity or a range of other grounds.”

“If you look at the Harmful Digital Communications Act, which is the other law we have dealing with what we might describe as hate speech, it’s very thorough but the question is whether the processes that are available under that legislation are as accessible and as good as they might be, so there’s grounds to review both those areas,” he said.

On who is covered under current law, Mr Little said: “If your hateful expressions and hateful actions are directed at somebody’s religion, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination other than race then actually it doesn’t cover that, there’s no offence at that point.”

He said you could potentially lay a complaint for mediation with the Human Rights Commission, but that the most gross type of expression seen around the Christchurch terror attacks wouldn’t be covered by it and that looked like there was a gap in the law.

He said the review would make clear whether the law does fit. He’s not convinced it does, but said he’ll leave it up to the experts doing the review.

Mr Little said the issue about where the line was drawn was the most difficult part of any law that constrains expression and speech.

“The reality is we know that there are forms of expression on social media and elsewhere that you can see at face value are totally unacceptable and not worthy of defence but then there are opinions and views that we might disagree with or might even find offensive but are legitimate contributions to debate.”

Mr Little said any change to the law would need to be robustly debated.

I’m sure any suggested changes will be robustly debated.

Gordon Campbell (Werewolf) on the legal crackdown on hate crimes

Obviously, deterring hate speech and outlawing hate crime has the aim of providing better protections to vulnerable persons and communities, but without unduly restricting the public’s rights to free expression. It isn’t an easy balance to strike.

Hate crimes have a broader effect than most other kinds of violent crime. A hate crime victimizes not only the immediate target but also impacts every member of the group that the direct victim represents. Hate crimes affect families, communities, and sometimes the entire nation.

With hate speech, it is maybe worth keeping in mind that this is not purely a hate crime vs free speech issue. Speech has never been entirely free, under the law. Some language (obscenity) some speech in some contexts (eg yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre) and some types of threat have always been illegal.

Theoretically, the online expression of hate speech should fall under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, but given (a) the superheated and extravagant nature of much “normal” online debate and (b) the extent to which hate content online originates from offshore, the New Zealand law doesn’t currently offer much in the way of a defensive shield.

Moreover, regulating speech online to the point where hate speech and/or the perception of it was entirely eliminated would require a surveillance apparatus and enforcement powers like those more commonly found in totalitarian states than in social democracies. Online, the cure may be almost as mad as the disease.

It could easily be worse if allowed to go too far in restricting speech.

To me hate is a very strong term, but many people say they ‘hate’ many trivial things.

With hate crime, and hate speech then, there may well be some scope for adjusting the boundaries of what counts as “intimidation” – where co-ercion is involved or implied – and “menacing”, where the intention is to engender fear and subservience in the victim. Unfortunately though, when Parliament has tried to deal with this sort of thing in the recent past, ordinary civil liberties have gone out the window in favour of rank political posturing.

Political posturing is a problem in any serious debate.

As Andrew Little has said, we have until December to find viable ways to criminalise expressions that (currently) do not meet the traditional tests of criminality – but which nevertheless have left vulnerable communities or persons feeling less safe. (Arguably, the repeated expression of hostile sentiments can serve to make an actual attack more likely.)

Any pre-emptive law however, which tries to restrict expression in areas where strong social disagreement exists will still need to be even-handed.

Putting that in context of recent discussions, that means restrictions on derogatory expressions related to religion would have to be ‘even handed’ – so should apply equally to ‘hate speech’ against Muslims and Islam, Christians and Christianity, and also agnostics and atheists.

This requirement may not suit groups that feel they have historical grievances, or socio-economic inequality etc on their side.

As the late US justice Antonin Scalia once famously wrote, the state has no authority to license one side of a debate to fight freestyle, while requiring the other to follow Marquis of Queensbury Rules. That’s one of the ironies.

The pressure for change may have to do with expressions of hostile content, but the solutions – if they are to be enforceable – will probably need to be formulated in ways that are content neutral. There will be few easy political points to be scored from such formulations.

The free speech versus hate speech debate is more than political – it is about the fundamentals of democracy as well as the fundamentals of a (relatively) free and open society.

Minister of Justice fast tracking ‘hate speech’ legislation review

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of legislation to look at ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’. This could possibly lead to more specific laws to cover them.

However ‘fast-tracking’ does not necessarily mean a sudden knee-jerk lurch to draconian laws as some are saying is already happening. Little hopes to have aa proposal by the end of the year, and that would then have to go through Cabinet for approval and then through Parliament, so any changes look like being at least a year away – in election year,

1 News: Andrew Little plans fast-track review of hate speech laws

Justice Minister Andew Little says he’s fast-tracking a law review which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change.

Mr Little said the Christchurch shootings highlighted the need for a better mechanism to deal with incidents of hate speech and other hateful deeds.

It isn’t unusual for an unprecedented crime to prompt a rethink of things that could be contributory factors (it happened after the Aramoana massacre). Firearm regulation and law changes are actually being fast-tracked, not just a review of them – and order in Council has already reclassified many types of semi-automatic weapons, and it is expected the legislation will go before Parliament next week.

He has asked justice officials to look at the laws and he was also fast-tracking a scheduled Human Rights Act review. “The conclusion I’ve drawn as the minister is that the laws are inadequate and I think we need to do better,” Mr Little said.

Mr Little said the current laws dealing with hate speech and complaints about hate speech and discriminatory action that relate to hateful expression were lacking.

The law in the Human Rights Act related to racial disharmony, but it didn’t deal with various other grounds of discrimination, he said.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was put in place to deal with online bullying and other unpleasantness, but it didn’t tackle the “evil and hateful things that we’re seeing online”, Mr Little said.

He said the government and the Human Rights Commission will work together, and a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate.

Note “a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate”. It will be important to have a decent public debate about whatever is proposed.

“There will be important issues to debate. There will be issues about what limit should be put on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

“We should reflect on where the lines need to be drawn and therefore, whether the laws should be struck so that they’re effective and provide some protection to people who’re otherwise vulnerable.”

I think it is going to be quite difficult trying to define hate speech and hate crime in legislation. And also to get a reasonable balance between protection from hate speech and free speech.

Stuff: Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings

Currently, hate-motivated hostility can be considered an “aggravating factor” in sentencing, and staff can note when a crime was motivated by a “common characteristic” such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Overall, there is no way of knowing how many offences are hate crimes and police do not even routinely record the ethnicity of victims.

Little said he had asked the Justice Ministry to look at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws needed to be changed or added.

“I certainly think that the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate,” Little said.

The tolerance for what had been considered acceptable had been too high, he said. Ethnic minorities needed to not only be accepted, but embraced and welcomed.

“It’s timely to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that.”

Somehow a legal line has to be drawn between fair reporting and debate, and speech aimed at hurting, intimidating, alienating.

The Human Rights Commission collects “race-related complaints” but says it has an incomplete picture of the problem. It has been calling for a national recording system to be set up.

The commission’s chief legal advisor Janet Anderson Bidois said there were “grave anomalies” in the current law.

“For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation,” she said.

“We maintain that a discussion about our current hate speech laws is overdue, and that urgent action is required in relation to the recording of hate crimes.”

This will be a challenge for all of us.

Especially as the review has been prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks, a lot of discussion will focus on Islam and Muslims, who have been ostracised and targeted in generalised attacks that go further than criticism.

Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of  all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.

Claims of justification because ‘it is just facts’ don’t wash – it is easy to group selected ‘facts’ (often actually quotes from historic texts, which aren’t facts) in a derogatory or fear-mongering manner.

The same tactic can be used by cherry picking bits out of the Old Testament to smear modern Christians, but it is done far more to blanket smear modern Muslims who have a wide variety of practices and cultures.

It will be hard to stop hate and fear and intolerance of other cultures, races and religions – this can be ingrained in some people.

It will also be hard to prevent this hate and fear and intolerance being used to attack groups of people, while still allowing for relatively free speech and open discussion about things that are pertinent to life in New Zealand.

This is also a challenge for social media and blog moderators.

I will do what I can to encourage debate proposals to change hate speech and hate crime laws, but preventing these discussions from becoming hateful or from mass targeting where it is not warranted by circumstances.

Q+A: Justice Minister “what we are doing isn’t working”

Justice Minister Andrew Little was interviewed on Q+A last night.

Andrew Little: after 30 years of tough on crime policy, the reoffending rate has stayed the same, “it’s not making us safe”

“We have to change the public debate on what we do with criminals”.

“If we are doing it right there will be more people leaving prison who have been helped and don’t reoffend.”

“It is not right that we’ve had a 30% increase in our prison population in the last 5 years.”

“No we haven’t got agreement from NZ First to get rid of 3 strikes law.”

Andrew Little: can’t rule out the possibility of systemic racism in the justice system

“Just the humanity of it means we have to do something different”.

“What we are doing right now isn’t working”.

I doubt anyone will argue that New Zealand’s incarceration rate is a problem, and that deterrents and reoffending rates and rehabilitation need to be seriously reviewed.

What is missing from the interview highlights (from @NZQandA) are solutions. That’s the tricky bit.

A review of the judicial system is under way. Hopefully that will come up with some good suggestions.

One problem is that a substantial up front investment will probably be required.

The growing number of prisoners has to be dealt with, and that is costly.

But much more resources are required for prevention and rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners after they are released. If these are done much better it should lead to lowering imprisonment rates, eventually.

Many prisoners are the result of long term problems, often intergenerational. Poor upbringings, lack of education and low skills making well paid employment difficult to get all contribute to resorting to crime.

Drug laws have worked poorly and contribute to a lot of crime.

Violence is a huge problem, it is a deeply entrenched issue in New Zealand society. It will be very challenging confronting and addressing this successfully, but it is an investment in effort and money that benefit us all if it works for the better.

a

Former National minister to head justice advisory reform group

In what I think is a smart move Minister of Justice Andrew Little has appointed former National MP Chester Borrows to head a criminal justice reform advisory group.

Borrows was a police officer before getting a law degree and practicing as a lawyer before becoming an MP, and served a term as Minister of Courts, so looks to have a good background.

RNZ: Chester Borrows to head criminal justice advisory reform group

Mr Little said Mr Borrows was the obvious choice to chair the group because of his experience in the justice sector.

“I was keen to have Chester on board because of his background as a former frontline police officer, prosecuting sergeant and then later as a defence counsel after he got his law degree.

“He knows the political system, he was a minister outside cabinet, he was a deputy speaker of parliament – he brings a good understanding of the political process as well.”

Mr Little will announce the other members of the advisory group later today.

He said his advice to them was to be “bold” and “courageous” with their recommendations while drawing on experience, science and data.

“We should all be incredibly concerned at a reoffending rate of those in prison of 60 percent within two years of release – that to me is a failure.”

Borrows says that he never liked the three strikes law and was forced to vote for it by the party whipping system.

In his first interview ahead of Justice Minister Andrew Little announcing the group later today, Mr Borrows has blamed political parties’ self-interest in staying in power for the lack of progress in law and order reform.

An example was the three strikes law introduced by National and ACT under the previous government, which Mr Borrows said National never supported but was introduced to appease their confidence and supply partner.

“Three strikes was never part of National’s plan, it came up as a political move because they needed a confidence and supply partner and that was it. I never liked it, I sent that back.

“Unfortunately it was a party vote and you fall under the whip on those occasions and that’s what happened.”

The reality of party politics.

Many of the problems facing the criminal justice sector today were the same issues Mr Borrows dealt with as a police officer decades ago, he said.

“That is because law and order policy is so frequently governed by politics and not by a sensitive and sensible approach to it.”

“If you’ve got politicians too scared to introduce policy that actually might work because it’s seen to be soft on crime they won’t do it because of how it might be reflected in the ballot box.”

There will always be failures in the justice system, some of them high profile and they will be used to by crime and punishment activists.

But Borrows sounds like he could be a good person to lead the review.

And Little looks like a Minister who wants to make a significant difference – but he has a potential problem, party politics, or more to the point, Winston Peters and NZ First.

But with Borrows’ connection to National he may be able to get them onside with justice reform to get the votes with Labour that will get it through Parliament.

I might be able to contribute to the review in a minor way. I now have three years experience dealing with the justice system (ongoing with a possible third appeal plus I have now been dragged into a bankruptcy proceeding as a creditor in which Dermot Nottingham is trying to avoid paying about $220k in court costs that he keeps appealing).

Courts are under a lot of time pressure due to increasing workloads and resigning judges. One problem I have experienced is their lenience with misguided lay litigators who repeatedly fail to follow legal procedures and repeatedly ignore court directions and timetables, and flood proceedings with large amounts of irrelevant paperwork. They should get tough on this, it will save some time in the court system.

And while private prosecutions are an important part of our judicial system they are too easily open to abuse by vexatious litigants who try to inflict costs in protracted hopeless cases.

 

Bail law and remand prisoner numbers

A change to bail laws is credited as a significant reason for a rapidly increasing prison population, but a change in approach by judges has also contributed.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has indicated he wants to change the bail laws, but this is a tricky political issue. If bail laws are relaxed it’s certain that any significant crime committed by someone on bail will be publicised as a failure.

Longer prison sentences without adequate mental health and addiction treatment also contributes to high levels of recidivism, but examples of that tend to not be publicised so much by those with tough on crime political motives.

RNZ: Relaxing bail laws: How risky is it?

In April, Justice Minister Andrew Little signalled the bail laws might be changed, as increasing remand numbers have seen the prison population balloon.

However, the families of people murdered by someone on bail want the law to remain as it stands.

Almost 1000 more people a year are now remanded in custody than before the bail laws were tightened in 2013, as a result of the murder of Auckland teenager Christie Marceau in 2011.

Her killer, Akshay Chand, was on bail at the time and living just 300 metres from her home, having already been charged with kidnapping and threatening to stab her.

The sad case of Christie Marceau is often used in arguments in favour of being tougher on people charged with crimes (not tryed or convicted).

But some emphasis does need to be put on protecting people who have been threatened or are at risk of violence.

Dr Liz Gordon a social researcher, who is also president of PILLARS, a group helping prisoners’ families, said the average number of murders in New Zealand each year was about 80.

She said when you put that figure alongside the extra 1000 people remanded in custody, it was an emotional over-reaction to suggest Andrew Little would have blood on his hands if he loosened the bail laws.

But emotional over-reactions can be expected from people with political motives. The ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ plays on fears of crime.

David Farrar ran a series of posts publicising some of the worse criminals who could potentially receive lighter sentences if the 3 strikes law is scrapped – ‘could’ should be emphasised, as judges usually go to great lengths to apply sentences appropriate to both the convictions they are dealing with and the records of the criminals.

“The mathematics simply doesn’t add up. They’re not going to all get out of the prisons and start murdering like mad and if you find good alternatives for them, perhaps you can actually stop them ever having to go to prison again.”

I don’t think anyone is arguing there should be no bail – I remained ‘at large’ despite a private prosecutor’s demands that I be incarcerated.

We have to have non-imprisonment for many offences and offenders. The difficult trick is where to draw the line.

Dr Gordon agrees Akshay Chand should never have got bail, as what he did was a foreseeable crime, but she said Mr Little needed to take a dispassionate view of what was best before making a final decision on the bail laws.

Chand getting bail was an error of judgment – as things turned out, it’s easy to be wise after the subsequent murder. I’m sure some people who have threatened others haven’t murdered while on bail.

Dr Gordon said there were also other downsides to keeping people on remand in jail, particularly younger offenders, as the remand units are active recruitment centres for youth gangs.

Remanding in custody can set up young first time offenders for further offending.

She is also concerned that, despite it costing more than $100 million a year to keep those 1000 extra people remanded in custody, they received no support while there to improve their lives.

If it costs money to protect the public then money needs to be spent. But…

“Those people are in a very difficult position. They often can’t see their children because visiting days for people on remand is often mid-week and the kids can only visit on the weekend.

“They don’t get access to training courses, drug and alcohol treatment and so on because those things aren’t offered most of the time to people on remand because the argument is [they] … aren’t sentenced and therefore can’t be forced to do programmes [so] … it’s not worth offering them to them.”

More secure medical and treatment facilities may be one way of dealing with this. That means more money in the short term.

Andrew Little was approached for comment, but his office said he would not speak about the bail issue until after a justice summit later this year.

Newshub (16 June 2018): ‘Everything is on the table for justice reform’ – Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says “everything” is on the table when it comes to justice reform, including changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Mr Little said that the current model “isn’t good enough” and the 60 percent reoffending rate within two years points to a “failure” in 30 years of punitive criminal justice policy.

“We will have to look at the parole act, the bail act, and the sentencing council – get some cohesion around our sentencing,

“But I think the real game changer is what we can do inside our prisons, and how we can make it systematic across our prison network.”

National’s Mark Mitchell has strongly criticised the Government’s proposed changes, particularly softening bail laws, saying that 98 percent of prisoners are ‘serious criminals’ who would be a danger if released.

The minister rejected that assertion, saying Mr Mitchell “has his figure wrong”.

“Over half the prisoners who enter the prison system in any one year are there for non-violent [offences], what I would characterise as ‘low-level’ offences.”

The minister says that of the criminals remanded in custody (those who are in prison awaiting trial or sentencing) 59 percent get a custodial sentence – but 41 percent do not.

With the number of prisoners on remand getting close to 2,000 this means about 800 of them will end up not being sentenced to prison. That’s a high number.

“The numbers alone tell you, we’ve calibrated our remand decision-making the wrong way. We are remanding too many in custody.”

That’s how it looks – but it can be difficult predicting which people arrested will end up in prison after conviction.

And it doesn’t take many ‘mistakes’ on bail for there to be high profile publicity – one violent assault would be enough to try to clamp down on bail.

Unfortunately bad crime happens despite the best efforts of the police, the justice system and the Minister of Justice and Parliament.

That justice summit could be interesting.

3 strikes repeal struck out

Andrew Little had to retract his promise to repeal the 3 strikes legislation today. He conceded that he wouldn’t have the support of NZ First so didn’t have the numbers.

Making a premature announcement like this is quite a balls up.

Three Strikes repeal not going to Cabinet

A proposal to repeal Three Strikes is not going before Cabinet today on the basis that New Zealand First have indicated they would be unlikely to support it, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

“I acknowledge New Zealand First has concerns about the Three Strikes repeal. The strength of this coalition is that change only occurs with the support of all three parties.

“Further work on a balanced reform package for a more effective criminal justice system that make our communities safer will be considered by the independent advisory panel to be appointed shortly, and progressed in August at the Criminal Justice Summit.

“We are committed to a meaningful and balanced programme of change and we will be consulting our coalition partners and the public on this over the coming months.

“The reality is that the justice system is not working and we need to make changes to make our communities safer,” says Andrew Little.

The justice system is working, but in some ways not very well so could do with some revisions. however Little needs to learn that you need to get the required support before making promises you may not be able to keep.

In reality retaining the 3 strikes legislation is unlikely to make a big difference. Courts have already overturned 3rd strike sentences as manifestly unfair (showing protections work), so the maximum penalties look likely to be reserved for the worst offenders most deserving of long sentences.

Stuff: Government’s three strikes repeal killed by NZ First

In a press conference on Monday morning Little tried to leave the door open on three strikes being repealed in the future, saying NZ First didn’t support a “piecemeal” approach and wanted to see the total justice reform package.

However, it’s understood NZ First MPs have been working on this issue for weeks. The caucus has no plans to budge on its long-held view of being tough on law and order after seeking feedback from its voter base.

That position is expected to be made clear after caucus meets at Parliament on Tuesday.

That position must have already been made clear to Little given his announcement today.

 

Three strikes to be struck out in two weeks

The three strikes law will be repealed in two weeks, according to Newshub.

This was signalled last November: Justice Minister Andrew Little to repeal three strikes law

“Three strikes – that thing’s gone. You do get this picture of things that are quite cosmetic or things that were big things that can be unpicked pretty much straight away.”

“After eight years of being in effect it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference to serious offending rates which continue to climb,” he says. We have one of the fastest growing prison populations in the Western world. Simply put, it’s not working. We have to find a better way to reduce offending and keep communities safer.”

Today: Govt to repeal three strikes law in two weeks

The three strikes law will be repealed in two weeks, and Justice Minister will also push for sentences shorter than two years to be served as home detention.

The Government is preparing to soften bail, sentencing and parole laws, and Newshub can reveal it’s already discussing how to reassure the public in the event of a high-profile crime.

The Government documents also highlight the extent of the prison overcrowding crisis, saying if big improvements aren’t made in a year, there will be “a failure of the prison system.”

At the next Cabinet meeting in twelve days the Justice Minister will seek approval to repeal three strikes, and push for shorter sentences to be served on home detention.

Andrew Little:

“Repeal of the three strikes, because I think there’s an acceptance now that actually it just doesn’t work.

“If you have a sentence of two years or less you’re at the lower end of the offending, you might have offended before but you’re at the lower end. We can still do something with you. So it’s better that you’re out in the community.

Tova O’Brien:

He’s also planning to revive the last Labour Government’s sentencing council which National scrapped. It provides guidance to judges to prevent tougher sentences.

And people bailed on electronic monitoring will be able to count their bail time as part of their sentence.

Little:

“We’ve had thirty years of this, the only way to deal with crime, get tough on crime, get really hard, lock them up for longer.

Actually it’s not working.

He is also talking about a transition type prison in which prisoners with good records nearing the end of their sentences can live in a flat-like facility where they shop and cook for themselves.

“All it could take though is one person on bail murdering someone to unravel your reforms”. Little:

“Yeah and look, that’s always a possibility. It’s a possibility right now. We know there are people on bail who are offending right now.”

The Government is aware that their changes will need to be seen to be an improvement. They plan on preparing PR strategies for when things go wrong, as they inevitably will with some prisoners or people on bail.

 

 

 

Contempt of Court law to be considered by Parliament

It’s a bit ironic that after nine years as Attorney-General it is from Opposition that Chris Finlayson is got a bill into Partliament that will consider Contempt of Court law changes that would toughen up on criticism of judges, especially via social media, and also publishing information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial .

Audrey Young (NZH): It took a move to Opposition for Chris Finlayson to make progress on contempt law

A proposed new law of contempt, setting boundaries for what can and can’t be said by the media, particularly social media, about defendants, trials and judges is going to be examined by Parliament.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is likely to be penalties for making untrue allegations against judges, which will attract a fine of up to $50,000 or up to two years imprisonment.

Some abuse of judges was calculated to intimidate judges individually or collectively, said the bill’s sponsor, former Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

I’ve seen what look like examples of this on a particular website that shouldn’t (mustn’t) be named here (for legal reasons).

“Such abuse is capable of undermining the rule of law. Judicial independence and impartiality is at the heart of the rule of law.”

The previous National Government commissioned the Law Commission to look at the law of contempt. It came up with plenty of recommendations and a draft bill to implement them.

But Finlayson was unable to convince the Ministry of Justice to make it a legislative priority so it languished.

So in Opposition Finlayson adopted the Law Commission’s bill as his own private member’s bill – which was recently drawn from the biscuit tin in the regular ballots for members’ bills.

So it is just by the luck of the draw that has enabled this to be considered by Parliament.

And Justice Minister Andrew Little will seek the support of his Cabinet colleagues to adopt it as a government bill after it passes its first reading, which is likely to be next week.

“Now that it has been drawn and has to be considered, we might as well do it properly,” Little said.

That’s very good to see from Little. He has made a good start as Minister of Justice in the Labour led government, on more than this issue.

The Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill will set those laws out in one place and come up with rules that will apply equally to mainstream media, and people commenting or blogging, tweeting or posting publicly through social media on the courts.

It will also cover disruptions in court, jurors who breach the rules by doing their own independent research, the enforcement of court orders, and malicious attacks on judges.

A lot of the time, people did not know what the boundaries were, including tweeters sitting in the back of a courtroom.

“I want to get this thing properly debated for the sake of the system,” said Finlayson.

“I think there is a danger in our system that we become obsessed when looking at justice questions with ‘law and order’ type issues and we don’t look at the other areas that are so fundamental to the efficient and successful running of our state.”

One of the issues on which he expected there would be debate was on criticism of judges.

Judges should not be immune from criticism for their decisions, he said.

“I’m not concerned about judges being criticised for their judgments but I am concerned about the abuse of judges and the attempts to intimidate judges, be it individually or collectively.

“Fair criticism is different from abuse.”

The aim of the bill was to make sure the boundaries were clear and people knew what they can and cannot do.

In the modern era of social media it will be good for this to be clarified.

Little has some concerns about what limitations are put on the criticism of judges.

Free speech versus the functions and  integrity of the judicial system.

What the bill does:

  • A person or organisation commits an offence if it publishes information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial, and is liable for up to six months imprisonment or a fine of $25,000 for an individual or $100,000 for an organisation.
  • Publishing untrue accusations against a judge punishable by up to two years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for individuals and $100,000 for organisations.
  • A person wilfully disrupting court proceedings may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A person disobeying a court order may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A juror convicted of intentionally researching information relevant to the case is liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three months.

That’s what is being considered by Parliament, it hasn’t been agree on yet.

The first one is of particular interest to users of social media – it is important that the law is clear on this.

Little has concerns about the last one.

He is also opposed to making it an offence for jurors to research cases…

“Most jurors get a pittance as a substitute for their wages. Most are reluctant to be there and they are doing it out of a civic duty,” he said.

“A better balance needs to be struck but that can be dealt with at select committee.”

I would think it would be difficult to discover let alone convict a juror for intentionally researching information relevant to the case.

Blasphemy law likely to be repealed

The blasphemy law, not used for almost a hundred years, will be repealed if legislation introduced to Parliament this week passes, whci seems likely.

RNZ: Outdated blasphemy law to be repealed

Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced legislation on Monday to repeal the decades-old law.

Blasphemous libel is listed in the Crimes Act and comes with a punishment of up to a year in prison but has not been prosecuted since 1922 – and even then was unsuccessful.

Labour sought to repeal the law when in opposition last year, but National blocked its attempt, saying the public should first have a say.

Speaking for the Government Paul Foster Bell opposed the idea that “any form of thought or crime of thought, or of speech or of conscience, should remain part of our criminal code on an ongoing basis” but said that a repeal of blasphemous libel had not been in the bill at the stage where submissions were invited from the public, and because it might be controversial it should not be included at that stage.

The public will get a chance to have a say via submission in the select committee stage of the bill, which should be later this year.

Former prime minister Bill English – a practising Catholic – last year said the law was outdated and should be repealed.

The comments were echoed by the bishops of the New Zealand Anglican Church who said God did not need to be defended by a statute.

There may not be much opposition then.

From the Crimes Act 1961:

Part 7

Crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare

Crime against religion

123 Blasphemous libel

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.

(2) Whether any particular published matter is or is not a blasphemous libel is a question of fact.

(3) It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

(4) No one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he or she thinks fit.

Blasphemy Law in New Zealand

From 1840 until 1893 the English Common Law Charges of blasphemy and blasphemous libel applied in New Zealand. After 1893 the Common Law charges were replaced by a charge of blasphemous libel under the Criminal Code Act 1893, and then from 1908 by the same charge under the Crimes Acts of 1908 and 1961.

An Outline of Blasphemy Law

In the distant past, blasphemy laws were introduced to protect monopolistic religions from all dissent, to prevent apostasy, to maximise the number of believers, and to maximise the income of a religious group and its priests or clerics. Blasphemy was punished variously with death by stoning, burning at the stake, hanging or beheading, lashing, piercing of the tongue and other barbaric and inhumane punishments.

Now, blasphemy laws are largely restricted to Islamic countries. Over 125 non-Islamic countries have no blasphemy laws at all. Such laws are out of place in a modern secular and multicultural society. New Zealand is now one of a very small number of western countries with an archaic, medieval, and anachronistic law against blasphemous libel and an even smaller minority with a prison sentence for this dubious offence.

Wikipedia: Blasphemous libel

Blasphemous libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. Today, it is an offence under the common law of Northern Ireland, it is a statutory offence in Canada and New Zealand, and it has been abolished in England and Wales.

It consists of the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule, and contempt, and the material must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. It is a form of criminal libel.

That isn’t specified in our legislation but I suppose a definition something like that would apply.

It is still illegal at the moment, so please no blasphemous libel in comments.

But you can express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.