Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Iniquitous Inquiry Bill


While all attention is on the passage of the GCSB Bill another bill is being passed through largely under the radar. The Inquiry Bill has been lying on the bottom of the pile since 2009 and is being resurrected after the Fonterra debacle. The current legislation that guides inquiries is around 100 years old and the Government has decided that it needs more teeth to enable a more contemporary and robust approach. This Bill has been scrutinised by the Law Commission and, in fairness, was probably being pushed through with genuine intentions, however Holly Walker has revealed some concerning elements.

The mismanagement and over-reach that occurred during the Henry Inquiry has shed a different light on the Inquiry Bill and enables us to place the proposed legislation into a recent context. This has exposed some powers that will be given to future inquiries that probably go beyond what was intended and clauses 21 and 23 are of particular concern and they include the following:

"An inquiry may, as it thinks appropriate for the purposes of the inquiry, require any person to produce any documents or things in that person's possession or control or copies of those documents or things."

"An inquiry may, on its own initiative or the application of another person, order any person to disclose to any person participating in the inquiry any specified document, information or thing that that person has produced before the inquiry."

The penalties for not complying to any request from an inquiry are quite severe and could involve a $10,000 fine or a charge of contempt being taken to the High Court.

If this legislation had existed at the time of the Henry Inquiry it would have potentially had the power to demand an MP to disclose his or her personal correspondence and force a journalist to reveal their sources.

While robust, transparent inquiries are an important part of good governance, so too are the rights of MPs to operate independently of the Government and be able to have confidential conversations with their constituents. It is also important that journalists are able to protect their sources.

We await the Government's response to Holly's concerns.

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