This week in Parliament Judith Collins was in full-on “no” mode – no to alternative trial process for sexual abuse cases, and no to changes to the law of evidence in sexual abuse cases.
She was responding to questions from Jan Logie and Andrew Little about Law Commission proposals in 2011 and 2013.
In September 2012 Judith Collins quashed the Law Commission work on Alternative Proposals for Prosecuting and Trying Criminal Cases, commissioned by her predecessor Simon Power:
The minister said she had no interest in progressing her predecessor Simon Power’s plan to introduce an inquisitorial system in New Zealand. Mr Power, a more liberal member of the National Party caucus, had been interested in an alternative trials process and visited courts in Europe to investigate a system in which judges were able to interview victims of sexual crimes, get assistance from specially trained jurors, or come to a verdict without a jury. The inquisitorial model was designed to protect victims or children from the pressure and stress of appearing in the courtroom.
Judith Collins said that while the sentiment for an inquisitorial proposal was sound the practicality was not.
However in squashing the Law Commission’s report she also effectively shelved two other sections offering alternatives to better deal with the complexities of sexual violence c – a specialist sexual violence court (post-guilty plea), and an alternative process for sexual violence case outside the criminal justice system.
This morning on National Radio Jan Jordan of Victoria University called for the extensive work done on this report to be revisited. I think she is absolutely right. I am sure Simon Power would have carried that work through to a better outcome than what we have at the moment.
Just to remind me of what might have been I went back and read Simon Power’s valedictory speech. Among his last words were:
It’s our job to tackle the tough issues, the issues the public pays us to front up to, and come to a view on. There are many debates that Parliament does not want to have for fear of losing votes or not staying on message: abortion, adoption law, children’s rights, and sexual violence issues. I don’t share this timid view.
The truth is, if we don’t have those debates here, where will we have them? Surely people don’t run for Parliament claiming they want to “make a difference”, only to vote for the status quo, otherwise presumably they would be so satisfied with the way the country was running that they wouldn’t feel the drive to seek public office in the first place.
I have a great deal of confidence in the public’s high level of intelligence and engagement in discussing those issues at some point, whenever that may be. But I also have confidence that Parliament is capable of rising to the challenge and dealing with those issues with dignity and distinction.
Collins has been concerned to distinguish herself from Power. She practised law for twenty years, he only did so for three, she said. But when it comes to wisdom and a willingness to work across the House with Jan Logie and Andrew Little on these sensitive issues, I wish we still had Power instead of the Minister for No.