In a shameless piece of self-promotion, I'd like to tell you about an event I'm coordinating at the start of next month. Some of you might even like to come along to it ... .
Late last year, to little fanfare and even less notice, the Constitutional Advisory Panel released its report on the "conversation" it had with the public over New Zealand's constitution. I made some mention of it here, Tim did likewise here, and Carwyn Jones also talked about it here. But in general the report barely made a ripple as it slid beneath the waters.
There was one aspect of the report, however, that surprised me a little. When it discussed the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act (NZBORA), the Panel gave its strongest recommendations that some sort of change is justified. As I said at the time of its release:
The report goes further than I thought it might do - while it doesn't call for full entrenchment, it certainly thinks the NZBORA could do with more surgery than I expected. So, the call is for the Government to:
"set up a process, with public consultation and participation, to explore in more detail the options for amending the Act to improve its effectiveness such as:
- adding economic, social and cultural rights, property rights and environmental rights
- improving compliance by the Executive and Parliament with the standards in the Act
- giving the Judiciary powers to assess legislation for consistency with the Act
- entrenching all or part of the Act."
Now, we need to be careful about what the Panel did and didn't say. It thinks these are issues that are worthy of greater exploration and debate in public. It doesn't say that these changes then must be made; if after talking about them we decide they aren't necessary, or would lead to some sort of bad consequences, then we shouldn't go there. We should, however, talk about them some more in order to make that decision.
Anyway, seeing as the Panel had done all this work, and seeing as it had raised the NZBORA as a matter of some pressing importance, I started chatting with some of my academic colleagues. Why not use this report as a springboard and do what the Panel recommended; start talking about these sorts of changes and whether they would be a good idea? So, in conjunction with VUW's Prof. Claudia Geiringer and Auckland's Prof. Paul Rishworth, and with the financial support of The Law Foundation, we've come up with a mini-event to do just that.
It consists of bringing over three quite knowledgeable and sensible people from overseas to give us their thoughts on what the Panel recommends we consider here in New Zealand. The point of doing so is not because overseas people have better thoughts than us, or that we should slavishly follow the rest of the world. Rather, it recognises that the sorts of things the Panel suggests we consider already are in existence in other countries. So when we think about whether to adopt them here, it is worth getting some comparative insight into just how such measures have operated in practice elsewhere.
The three guests who are coming over for it are:
Professor Stephen Gardbaum, MacArthur Foundation Professor of International Justice and Human Rights, UCLA Law School, author of The New Commonwealth Model of Constitutionalism.
Tom Hickman, Blackstone Chambers and University College of London, author of Public Law After the Human Rights Act.
Joanna Davidson, List G Barristers, Melbourne and former Special Counsel in the Victorian Government Solicitors Office.
They'll be speaking in the Legislative Council Chamber at Parliament Buildings, courtesy of the Attorney-General, Chris Finlayson, who kindly has agreed to sponsor the event. So if this looks like the sort of thing you'd be interested in hearing about, then by all means we'd love to have you come along to it.
When: Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - 8:50am - 12 noon.
Where: Legislative Council Chamber, Parliament Buildings, Wellington
NOTE: Because this is being held in Parliament's precincts, you'll need to register your intention to attend it here: http://tinyurl.com/nzbora-conversation. We'll then send you a formal invite to it.