Labour Must Uphold the Rule of Law



by Chris Trotter


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When Daily Blog editor, Martyn Bradbury, says Labour’s lucky the country’s currently distracted by the Covid-19 Delta Variant, he’s right. Were New Zealand safe and out of Lockdown, it would be in the midst of a dangerously divisive row about Oranga Tamariki, the Judiciary, Race, and the Rule of Law.

Given that the matters at the heart of this controversy are sub judice (i.e. under the authority of the court) I shall forbear from discussing the particular case in question. What must be discussed, however, is the direction in which Māori-Pakeha relations are travelling, and exactly what it would take for this government to intervene.

There is only so much a judicial system, or any other important part of the state apparatus, will stand before it moves to defend itself. Judges and lawyers cannot be expected to turn a blind eye to egregious breaches of legal norms. As Officers of the Court, it is their sworn duty to uphold the law. They cannot be asked to treat one category of citizen better or worse than another, nor are they permitted to stand back and see injustice done without taking steps to prevent it.

Attempts to racialise New Zealand’s courts are bound to provoke significant public disquiet. So, too, will any attempt by the Crown to influence the outcome of trials, or civil cases, by exerting unwarranted pressure on judicial officers. Any government made aware of such behaviour has a duty to act decisively to uphold the Rule of Law. Those responsible must be held to account for their actions.

Though the mere mention of the He Puapua Report will elicit the usual protests from the usual suspects, the events highlighted by The Daily Blog’s editor raise vital issues about what inferences the Crown is allowing and/or encouraging Māori to draw from its recommendations.

Any failure to uphold the equal application of the laws, on the grounds that a separate Māori justice system will soon replace the long-established principle of “one law for all”, will be taken as proof that this government intends to change profoundly the constitutional and judicial arrangements of the New Zealand state.

Such a fundamental change to the manner in which justice is administered in New Zealand, especially one predicated on ethnic and cultural considerations, could have no legitimacy without having first secured the endorsement, by way of referendum, of a majority of New Zealand citizens.

To suggest that the articles of the Treaty of Waitangi in some way obviate the Crown’s need to obtain the consent of the New Zealand electorate before changing the way justice is administered, and by whom, is tantamount to suggesting that the Treaty legally entitles the Crown to extinguish democracy in the Realm of New Zealand without reference to its citizens and in defiance of its laws.

Such action would constitute a declaration of war upon the people of this country. Any government participating in such an open attack on the civil and political rights of its citizens would immediately identify itself as their enemy, and forfeit all claims to their continuing loyalty. It would be responsible for unleashing civil war upon New Zealand.

The Labour Government’s silence on these matters is indefensible. A clear statement of its determination to uphold the Rule of Law and protect the democratic rights of all New Zealanders is long overdue.

Chris Trotter is a political commentator. He was the founding editor of the New Zealand Political Review, and is the author of No Left Turn: The Distortion of New Zealand’s History by Greed, Bigotry and Right-wing Politics.


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