Freedom of speech at risk in draft law

05 Sep, 2018
Gavel in court room

AUT Law School’s Leonid Sirota and Professor Allan Beever are among a group of legal academics who have condemned draft legislation that could have the effect of restricting criticism of the judiciary.

The pair have separately presented an oral submission to the Justice Select Committee on the Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill. Among the provisions to reform the New Zealand contempt of court laws is one making it an offence for any person to publish an untrue allegation or accusation against a judge or a court when there is a real risk the publication could undermine public confidence in the independence, integrity or impartiality of the judiciary or a court. Under the proposed new law, criticising the judiciary could land a person in jail for up to two years or facing a fine of up to $50,000.

Writing on the Double Aspect blog, Sirota says the provisions relating to the criticism of the judiciary in the draft legislation are “overbroad, infringe the presumption of innocence and freedom of conscience as well as freedom of expression, and rely on a dangerous amount of discretion in their enforcement”.

“Even if they are not applied to the fullest extent of which they are capable...these provisions will have a chilling effect on lawyers and laypersons alike who might want to comment on the courts, whether in the media, on blogs, or in scholarship. They ought be amended or indeed abandoned altogether,” he says.

In his written submission to the Justice Select Committee, Professor Beever says the changes to rules around criticising courts and the judiciary "would create a draconian power that would unjustifiably interfere with freedom of speech".

Both made oral submissions to the Justice Select Committee at a public hearing in Auckland on 29 August. A report is due back from the select committee in early November.

Read more about the reform of the contempt of court law

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