The Nats most recent attack on democracy – the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill – was outrageous in at least three respects. (1) It was an attempt to rewrite the verdict of the Supreme Court. (2) It was retrospective lawmaking which (except in benign cases such as validating legislation) is universally regarded as unacceptable. (3) The Nats tried to (yet again) abuse urgency to ram it through without public scrutiny.
This authoritarian mess was almost universally condemned. Here for example is ex PM and constitutional law expert Sir Geoffrey Palmer:
Ex PM: ‘Fix it’ bill oppressive
The Government’s “fix-it” bill for police use of covert video surveillance gives police and all state agencies too much power, has insufficient checks and balances, and breaches constitutional principles, Parliament has been told.
Representatives from the Law Society, the Law Commission, the Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Association all rejected the Government’s Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill in select committee submissions yesterday.
The bill would make legal covert video surveillance by state agencies on private property under a search warrant, a practice the Supreme Court has ruled was illegal. …
Former Prime Minister and constitutional law expert Sir Geoffrey Palmer was scathingly critical of the need for urgency and retrospectivity, which he said was unprincipled, oppressive and highly undesirable. ”Laws should be prospective, open and clear … that is what fairness requires.”
Overturning the Supreme Court in this case was also a “constitutional perversion”, effectively elevating the Court of Appeal above the Supreme Court. … ”If Parliament is to be supreme as the law-maker, then it needs to take principle seriously and not brush it under the carpet.”
After a brief select committee process Labour has secured significant concessions. Here’s Andrea Vance at Stuff:
Labour gains changes to surveillance bill
Labour has forced the Government to back down over controversial video surveillance laws.
After insisting the legislation go before a select committee before agreeing to support it, Labour has secured changes to more contentious aspects of the proposed law. … Labour will now lend its support after winning concessions from Attorney-General Chris Finlayson. It is understood ACT is also willing to support the revised legislation. The Green, Maori and Mana parties are all opposed to the legislation.
In pending cases, courts will be left to determine if evidence is admissible. To prevent convictions being overturned, the law that applied at the time of the verdict will stand. The legislation will only apply for six months – not one year as National hoped. …And only police and the Security Intelligence Service will be allowed to carry out “trespassory surveillance” – when a warrant is used to place secret cameras on private land in the investigation of serious crimes.
As Bryce Edwards puts it – “The Labour Party seems to have turned a very electorally-dangerous issue into a victory with its compromise agreement with National over the Police covert video surveillance fixit legislation … On a whole, National comes out of the whole saga looking weaker and less principled”. Other positive coverage includes – Has Finlayson flunked?, Goff hails victory in surveillance bill debate, and Govt waters down hidden camera bill.
For a much more critical analysis, however, see the always excellent Gordon Campbell at Scoop - On why the deal on Police covert video surveillance is a travesty (a piece which draws heavily from Andrew Geddis at Pundit). Many of Campbell’s criticisms relate to the appalling process behind this Bill. No argument there, but even so it was good to see Parliament work for once as it should, and at least partially check the Nats’ fondness for trampling on the democratic process. The political Right like to vacuously accuse Labour of “arrogance”, but episodes such as this show all too clearly where the real arrogance lies.