Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Legal experts oppose Canterbury Enabling Act

Two weeks ago, Parliament unanimously passed the Canterbury Earthquake Response and Recovery Act, which established Gerry Brownlee as a near-absolute dictator, able to amend almost any law with a flick of a pen, without any real oversight. While the blogosphere has been vocal in its opposition to this constitutional outrage, the mainstream media has been largely silent, likely due to the lack of "credible" voices willing to speak up against it. Now, New Zealand's legal academics have united to provide that voice, with an open letter calling for the law to be revisited. The core of it is in these two paragraphs here:

These matters are not simply "academic" or "theoretical" in nature. Over and over again history demonstrates that unconstrained power is subject to misuse, and that even well-intentioned measures can result in unintended consequences if there are not clear, formal measures of oversight applied to them.


Any claim that such safeguards are unnecessary because the Act’s powers will be wisely and sparingly applied, and that informal "consultation" and "public pressure" will ensure that this happens, must be resisted. Only formal, legal means of accountability, ultimately enforceable through the courts, are constitutionally acceptable.

Or, as Lew put it over at Kiwipolitico, there is no democracy on the honour system. Any law which requires us to simply trust the government not to be evil is not acceptable.

Hopefully, Parliament will listen, and revise the law. Its been a few weeks, and so it should be obvious by now which laws need amendment and which do not. Limited, reviewable, enforceable emergency legislation is acceptable. But this sort of blank cheque is not.