Swift action to remedy the immediate obvious defects in the Arms Act 1983 after the Christchurch mosque attacks by the introduction of the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill is appropriate, New Zealand Law Society President-elect Tiana Epati says.
However, the Law Society considers that this could have been achieved while still allowing a more realistic – but still short – period for public input, Ms Epati has told the Finance and Expenditure select committee.
The Law Society was one of a number of submitters to the committee in Wellington today. Ms Epati began by paying tribute to the outstanding work of the New Zealand Police in their response to the tragic events.
“We appreciate the need for a swift legislative response but believe that this could have been achieved while still allowing an adequate period – such as five working days – for public input,” she said.
“That would have allowed for better public understanding and buy-in, as well as better quality – and more enduring – legislation.”
Ms Epati said the Law Society did not in any way intend to undermine or diminish recognition of the efforts of those involved.
“However, in circumstances such as these we emphasise the importance of proper democratic processes, including adequate time for public and select committee scrutiny of significant new legislation.”
She said there were risks of legislating with haste.
“The lack of opportunity for public input and debate means key stakeholders are unable to provide legitimate perspectives and information and evidence that may be highly relevant to the bill. And, inadvertent drafting errors and unintended consequences may result from rushed drafting.”
Ms Epati told the committee that the Law Society agreed with the Minister of Justice that the Arms Act 1983 was clearly not fit for purpose and was in need of wholesale revision.
“The government has indicated that a second tranche of substantive amendments in the form of a second amendment bill will follow later this year. It is imperative that the development and scrutiny of the second bill is done in a systematic way with adequate time for public input.”
The Crown Law Office had advised the Attorney-General that the bill appaered to be consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. However, Ms Epati said, that advice did not address the extension of the reverse onus of proof in section 66 to the three new offences of unlawful possession.
“This may be an oversight, since the Departmental Disclosure Statement specifically identifies these new possession offences as a source of human rights concerns.”
The Bill of Rights Act was engaged by these new offences because the reverse onus of proof in section 66 applies, she said. It was important that Crown Law’s advice was reviewed in relation to this.
The Law Society has also pinpointed seven technical questions which relate to the drafting of the bill. It says if there is time it may be helpful for officials to consider these.
The Law Society submission is available here.