The New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA) has condemned remarks by the Minister of Police, Paula Bennett, that some people "have fewer human rights than others".
Ms Bennett had proposed that a National-led government would give police the power to search the cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members, at any time, for firearms through the use of new prohibition orders, which would be given at the discretion of police.
“Whatever the merits of the government's announced proposal to empower police to search gang members' cars and homes for firearms, Ms Bennett’s statement is inconsistent with the rule of law, which is the basis of our legal system and the foundation stone of a just and democratic society,” the NZBA says.
The NZBA says a key principle of the rule of law is that everybody in society is equal before the law, and that principle is enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
“No matter how unpopular you are or whatever wrong you may have committed, you are entitled to be treated in the same way as anybody else, according to law.
“That includes the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial judiciary. It is essential that these principles are applied universally in order to protect all members of society against injustice and abuse.
“Even though Ms Bennett has been corrected by the Prime Minister, the New Zealand Bar Association is concerned that the importance of upholding these principles appears not to have been understood by a senior government minister.”
Prominent legal, community and other figures lined up to condemn Ms Bennett’s remarks.
Ms Bennett says she has since apologised to National Party leader Bill English for the comments.