Monday, 17 November 2014

Cafes and convictions

Here in Wellington we are counting the days to the next local body elections. Incumbent mayor Kerry Prendergast is campaigning on her vision of the city which seems to involve cafes, aimless motorway extensions and visits by celebrity sports men a sort of lifestyle magazine editor's vision of a city really. The readers of one such magazine apparently recently voted our fair city 12th in a survey of global liveability. One wonders whether the readers of that magazine where told about our city's bullying liqour ban which is criminalising a significant number of the city's ratepayers. Anyone crossing into a designated section of the CBD with a container of alcohol whether in a car or on foot is liable to a criminal conviction being entered against their names along with a maximum fine of $20000. No disorder or drunkeness is required to offend the bylaw. Simple possession of alcohol is enough. The mayor and the police say that officers warn people before arresting. If that's the message then it is not getting through to the officers responsible for enforcing the law. I have seven clients at the moment who are charged with this offence none of whom have been warned before spending up to a night in the cells and being put at risk of conviction. The police will also say that they have to deal with offences involving alcohol in the central city far too often. I don't doubt them but we should be addressing these substantive crimes and encouraging the people who commit them to examine their use or abuse of alcohol. Criminalising behaviour which is at best part and parcel of the modern urban experience and at worst poor manners is not good civic policy or the mark of a great city.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Human rights

Human rights are "commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being." Human rights are thus conceived as universal and egalitarian. These rights may exist as natural rights or as legal rights, in local, regional, national, and international law. The doctrine of human rights in international practice, within international law, global and regional institutions, in the policies of states and in the activities of non-governmental organizations, has been a cornerstone of public policy around the world.

The idea of human rights states, "If the public discourse of peacetime global society can be said to have a common moral language, it is that of human rights." Despite this, the strong claims made by the doctrine of human rights continue to provoke considerable skepticism and debates about the content, nature and justifications of human rights to this day. Indeed, the question of what is meant by a "right" is itself controversial and the subject of continued philosophical debate.

Many of the basic ideas that animated the human rights movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War and the atrocities of The Holocaust, culminating in the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The ancient world did not possess the concept of universal human rights. The true forerunner of human rights discourse was the concept of natural rights which appeared as part of the medieval Natural law tradition that became prominent during the Enlightenment with such philosophers as John Locke, Francis Hutcheson, and Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, and featured prominently in the political discourse of the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


Aucuba is a genus of three to ten species of flowering plants, now placed in the family Garryaceae, although formerly classified in the Aucubaceae or Cornaceae.

Aucuba species are native to eastern Asia, from the eastern Himalaya east to Japan. The name is a latinization of Japanese Aokiba. They are evergreen shrubs or small trees 2-13 m tall, similar in appearance to the laurels of the genus Laurus, having glossy, leathery leaves, and are among the shrubs, excluding the genuine laurel, Laurus nobilis called "bay", that are mistakenly called laurels in gardens.

The leaves are opposite, broad lanceolate, 8-25 cm long and 2-7 cm broad, with a few large teeth on the margin near the apex of the leaf. Aucubas are dioecious, having separate male and female plants. The flowers are small, 4-8 mm diameter, with four purplish-brown petals; they are produced in clusters of 10-30 in a loose cyme. The fruit is a red berry 1 cm diameter.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Corporate Defenders of Human Rights?

Amid the horror of Liam Ashley's death in custody, the report from the Inspectorate of the Department of Corrections into that tragic event reveals a contrast in regard for human rights between state and private sector agencies.

The main story is, of course, the awful convergence of a vulnerable 17 year old, stupid murderous intent, and institutional bungling. The report uncovers a professional assessment that Liam's killer was likely at some stage to murder simply for the notoriety and that Liam had scored 25 points (considered to be a`high' score) on a Departmental test to detect vulnerability. Added to the cocktail was misinformation given to the Chubb escorts and a lack of intervention from the third inmate who was being carried in the prison van's compartment the day Liam was killed.

An interesting point highlighted by the report though is the apparent contrasting regard held for the position of young people in custody between the Department of Corrections and its contractors Chubb. Article 37(c) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that;

Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with
humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the
human person, and in a manner which takes
into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular,
every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from
adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest
not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact
with his or her family through correspondence and
visits, save in exceptional circumstances

Via reservations to this Convention the emphatic wording of the UN's drafting becomes watered down when it filters down to New Zealand domestic law. Our law provides for separation of adults and under 18 year olds when they travel to and from prison"where practicable". Through various happy accidents though the contract between Chubb and the Department defined all those prisoners under 20 as being "at risk" and therefore worthy of automatic segregation during transport by Chubb.

Sadly we can't annoint Chubb as corporate defenders of human rights as the way Chubb employees understood their jobs meant that expediency and other prisoner categorisations took priority. Young inmates did sometimes travel with their adult counterparts in the same compartment of a prison van with other prisoners being preferred for placement in the segregated parts of the van. This was the case on the day Liam was killed.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Mince Pies and Rights Abuses

The New Zealand Herald published a story on 15 December reassuring its readers of the ordinariness of the Christmas menu on offer in our prisons this year. Aside from the small number of people who will be bitterly disappointed at the absence of gruel and stale bread on the lunch table at Rimutaka Prison, the majority of the community would not need the reassurance if they bore in mind at least two of the most recent failures of our penal system.

Most recently, Liam Ashley's death was contributed to by the Department failing to afford him protections demanded by his age and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. That Convention demands, amongst other things, that young people and adult offenders be segregated in penal institutions. In Liam's case that seems to have gone by the by in our mission statement bearing, out-sourced public prison service.

Not so long ago the government were declared to be in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 by the High Court for their treatment of inmates subjected to "administrative segregation" (solitary confinement by another name). The breaches in Attorney-General & Ors v Taunoa & Ors were held to amount to inhumane treatment and ranged from the conditions in cells falling well short of proper standards of hygiene required for a person living in one place for 22-23 hours per day to the absence of any screening of prisoners who might be mentally unwell and particularly vulnerable to isolation.

Given what sometimes happens in our jails, we should not begrudge inmates a mince pie for Christmas lunch.