New Zealand Law Society - America provides insights to in-house work

America provides insights to in-house work

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My roles as in-house counsel for government departments in New Zealand and the UK have enabled me to work on many different legislative projects that are hard to find outside of in-house government roles, and develop a string to my bow that I find highly rewarding.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to work on legislation relating to public health, drinking water, flood protection and climate change adaptation, public/private partnerships, debt recovery, regulation of monopoly providers, public adoption of private infrastructure and compulsory acquisition, powers to compel telcos to provide customer information, and corrections/justice legislation.

In my current role as an in-house lawyer at the Department of Corrections I have had the opportunity to lead the development of ground-breaking legislation to expand the scope of post-prison restrictions (extended supervision orders) and civil detention (public protection orders) to persons at risk of committing further violent non-sexual offences. Previously, such measures could only be taken against persons at risk of committing sexual offences. New Zealand — along with New South Wales — is the first jurisdiction to take this step.

Award a great platform

Winning the ILANZ-Chapman Tripp Public Sector In-house Lawyer of the Year in 2015 and the $5,000 scholarship package has provided a great platform to share this work with other jurisdictions, and opportunities to learn from them.

Firstly, I attended the Fourth International Conference on Legislation and Law Reform in November last year and spoke about my work on post-prison restrictions. My talk was part of a breakout session with Jonathan Wroblewski of the US Department of Justice and Harvard Law School, who provided a fascinating history of drug and alcohol regulation in the US over the last 150 years.

The conference was hosted by the World Bank in Washington DC and sponsored by a number of organisations including the Federal Bar Association, which generously provided funding to cover some of my costs. The conference included speakers from all over the world, and many of the American speakers had hastily rejigged their material to address the new legislative era they believed America was now heading into with the election of Donald Trump.

Systems for safeguarding

Secondly, I was hosted for a week by the Office of the Attorney-General for Washington state in Seattle to learn from the US about their systems and legislation for safeguarding the public from people who are released from prison but are still thought to pose a very high risk. This included attendance at court hearings and a visit to the McNeil Island Special Commitment Centre, where over 260 “sexually violent predators” (yes, that is the actual legal term) are detained. The Centre used to be a prison, and has held a number of high-profile prisoners including Robert Stroud, aka the Birdman of Alcatraz, and Charles Manson.

I was interested in the state of Washington because, in 1990, it was the first jurisdiction in the modern era to enact this kind of legislation. However, it was immediately found by the federal courts to be unconstitutional. The state embarked on a long process of court-supervised reform to bring it into line, which was finally concluded in 2007.

Their experience is informative for New Zealand, given that our extended supervision order legislation (in the Parole Act 2002) has been the subject of a number of reports from more than one attorney-general concluding that it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act 1990. Washington state shows how it is possible to protect the public in a rights-consistent manner.

The next stage of my project, which is made possible by a generous contribution from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, will be to visit Minnesota and study their equivalent legislation. Minnesota’s legislative regime has recently been ruled unconstitutional, so provides a useful contrast. I will be publishing a report later this year with my findings and recommendations for how New Zealand can reform its legislation to improve BORA compliance while still protecting the public.

Michael Cameron is Lead Legislation Solicitor for the Department of Corrections. He is the recipient of Law Foundation’s 2016 International Research Fellowship, New Zealand’s premier legal research award. Mr Cameron is taking a break from Corrections during 2017 and using the fellowship to undertake a project on “Realising the Potential of Autonomous Vehicles for New Zealand”.

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