NZBA condemnation of Police Minister's remarks that some have fewer human rights than others
The New Zealand Bar Association wishes to express its condemnation of the reported remarks by the Minister of Police, Paula Bennett, that "some" - in this case, gang members - "have fewer human rights than others". There can be no doubt that the manufacture and consumption of “P” and other hard drugs is a huge problem in New Zealand, and one which needs to be addressed urgently. However, whatever the merits of the government's announced proposal to empower police to search gang members' cars and homes for firearms, Ms Bennett’s statement is inconsistent with the rule of law, which is the basis of our legal system and the foundation stone of a just and democratic society.
One of the key principles of the rule of law is that everybody in society is equal before the law. That principle is enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which guarantees everybody's rights under the law equally. No matter how unpopular you are or whatever wrong you may have committed, you are entitled to be treated in the same way as anybody else, according to law. That includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial judiciary. It is essential that these principles are applied universally in order to protect all members of society against injustice and abuse. Even though Ms Bennett has today been corrected by the Prime Minister, the New Zealand Bar Association is concerned that the importance of upholding these principles appears not to have been understood by a senior government minister.
The principles that are inherent in the concept of the rule of law include (as set out in the International Bar Association’s Rule of Law Resolution of September 2005):
• an independent, impartial judiciary;
• the presumption of innocence;
• the right to a fair and public trial without delay;
• a rational and proportionate approach to punishment;
• a strong and independent legal profession;
• protection of confidential communications between lawyer and client;
• equality of all before the law.
The New Zealand Bar Association is committed to ensuring that the principles of the rule of law are recognised and upheld and to speaking out where they are breached or under threat.
Clive Elliott QC
President | New Zealand Bar Association