Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Some good news on the legal front...

I discussed, if a little briefly, the sedition charges brought against Tim Selwyn for sticking an axe into Auntie Helen's shop window. I still have nothing in favour of Selwyn, nor any criticism of the other charges of which he was found guilty.

Reported quite widely today, but this thanks to Herald -
New Zealand's Law Commission wants to abolish the crime of sedition - just a year after Australia created five new sedition offences as part of its "war on terror".

The commission says the ancient law of sedition "invades the democratic value of free speech" and should be repealed and not replaced.

Law Commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer said he was astonished by the case because Selwyn was charged with so many other offences that the extra charge of sedition was unnecessary.

Last month police laid another sedition charge in the Rotorua District Court against a youth who is also charged with threatening to kill. Details have been suppressed but Sir Geoffrey said that, again, he could not see why police used the sedition law when other charges were available.

I was unaware of that - more to come as it comes to hand.
"They have never charged anyone for 50 years. Now they have just remembered it."

And to a greater extent, this is really the strange part. From time to time (over the past five or six years) there has been the odd whimper - usually from National MP's - of political interference in Police investigations, and the resulting charges. Examples? The refusal to lay speeding charges against drivers in Auntie Helen's "racing and chasing on Canterbury Plains". The recent (and pianissimo) announcement that the remaining convictions had been quashed. The charges laid against a Natinal MP for driving a tractor up Parliament steps. "Throwing the book at" Tim Selwyn. There have been a number, others lurk in the back of my mind.

The commission's new 105-page report argues that all the crimes of sedition under existing New Zealand law either restrict free speech unduly or could be covered by other laws.

The report says it should no longer be a crime at all "to bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against, Her Majesty or the Government of New Zealand or the administration of justice".

"This is the sort of dissenting statement that, without more, should be protected by the principles of freedom of expression, and that a healthy democracy should be able to absorb."

Another offence of inciting political changes by unlawful means is already covered by the law against incitement to treason, it says.

Other offences to incite or procure violence, lawlessness or disorder, or any offence that prejudices public order or safety, are "too wide".

The offence of exciting "hostility or ill will between different classes of persons" is covered by the Human Rights Act if the language used is threatening, abusive or insulting, the report says.

The looser wording of the sedition law "has the potential to be used indiscriminately against religious or racial groups".

The report is open for submissions until December 15.

But National Party justice spokesman Richard Worth has warned against simply abolishing the sedition law. "I think there is still a case for retention of law in that area."

I shall be giving very serious consideration to making my own submissions. The line of thought at the moment is the prospect of indirect governmental control or censorship of internet publications, opinion and debate - viz, blogging. Naturally, I will be supporting the removal of sedition as a crime...

Also in the same article is this brief report -
In contrast, the Howard Government's Anti-Terrorism Act in Australia last year created five new seditious offences, including urging anyone to overthrow a lawful authority by force or violence, urging any group to use force or violence against another group and urging anyone to assist a country or organisation at war with Australia.

The Australian law provoked a wave of protest, a Senate inquiry and a report by the Australian Law Commission tabled last month which also recommended abolishing the word "sedition", although keeping the substance of the new offences. It said they should be tightened by requiring proof that an offender intended to provoke force or violence.

The Herald summarises -
IN AUSTRALIA [it is a crime -]

* To urge another to overthrow, by force or violence, the constitution or government of the Commonwealth, a state or territory or lawful authority of the Government.

* To urge another to interfere by force or violence with the lawful process of parliamentary elections.

* To urge a group or groups to use force or violence against another group or groups.

* To urge a person to engage in conduct where the offender intends to assist an organisation or country at war with the Commonwealth.

* To urge a person to engage in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force.

- Anti-Terrorism Act (No.2) 2005, section 80.

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