Attorney-General says human rights consideration fundamental

Chris Finlayson

09 October 2015 – By Sasha Borissenko

Parliament should always consider human rights and the enhancement of human rights in its decision making process, rather than a post de facto consideration, as it currently stands, Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson says.

Mr Finlayson spoke on Section 7 of the Bill of Rights: 7 Years Reflection, when opening The Business of Managing Corruption conference hosted by Transparency International New Zealand and held at Wellington’s Te Papa on 7 October 2015.

Mr Finlayson addressed an audience of lawyers, business people and government officials on the importance of the New Zealand Bill of Rights during the law-making process.

Under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA), the Attorney-General is required to report to Parliament where a bill appears to be inconsistent with the rights and freedoms afforded under the Act.

“It’s good to stand back and see how the system actually operates. Everyone here will understand that the Attorney-General is a minister of the Crown but also a law officer and the functions are quite distinct. [I have to] scrutinise legislation if it’s inconsistent or raises questions. It’s not surprising, therefore, that it is impossible for an Attorney-General to be a Minister of Justice.”

Former Minister of Justice Simon Power had once criticised Mr Finlayson for being “too independent from the executive”.

The Attorney-General is not subject to direction by caucus and is required to action section 7 reports according to their independent judgement, Mr Finlayson said.

“[Actioning section 7 reports] is very much my duty and I take that responsibility very seriously.”

The Maori Purposes Bill 2015 was recently subject to debate where questions regarding family status discrimination were raised in the instance that trustee beneficiaries might benefit differently according to whether they are blood descendants as opposed to adopted family members and spouses.

Irrespective of Mr Finlayson’s conclusions, he felt uncomfortable that NZBORA does not have supreme law status, which is the only way forward, he said.

Parliament should always consider human rights and enhancing human rights in their decision making process, rather than a post de facto consideration, as it currently stands.

He applauded former Attorney-General Margaret Wilson for waiving privilege in favour of publishing NZBORA section 7 orders in an effort to encourage greater consideration being made to NZBORA during the policy making process.

Section 7 reports have been most prevalent when bills have been issued under urgency. Rushed legislation makes for “crummy laws”, he said.

“We don’t have nearly as much urgency as we used to. The reality of the matter is if we rush things we stuff things up … There’s a lot to be said for slowing things down. [In other words] the longest way round is the shortest way long.”

Since 1990, 68 bills have been subject to section 7, five of which were issued this year, he said.

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