Round up of civil liberty news from September 2013.
Criminals seek to overturn voting ban
Prisoner Arthur Taylor has teamed up with three other inmates to take the government to court over prisoners' rights to vote.
Papers have been filed with the High Court in Auckland taking action against the Attorney General and Department of Corrections seeking a declaration that the blanket ban on prisoners voting contradicts basic human rights.
"As part of our case, we will be showing the court that the blanket ban on prisoner-voting cannot be justified by any society that considers itself free and democratic," Taylor said.
"It is of note that almost none of the countries that New Zealand likes to compare itself with have a blanket ban on prisoner-voting."
New Zealand removed the rights of all prisoners to vote in 2010 following a private member's bill. Previously, only those sentenced to more than three years in jail or preventive detention were disqualified.
Prisoners' voting rights vary widely from nation to nation, with a limited few, such as Britain and Bulgaria, having a blanket ban, while most other Western nations either allow voting or limit it in some way.
Taylor said he became involved with the women involved in the case, who are all inmates at Christchurch Women's Prison, as "Many of [these women] have children and they have a deep interest in their education, and it is particularly apposite that they have a say in the welfare of their children...They cannot do this fully without having a say in the running of their country."
The full statement of claim asks for declarations against the Attorney General and Corrections that the blanket prohibition on prisoner voting is inconsistent with section 12 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which provides that all citizens over 18 have the right to vote; New Zealand's international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is meant to protect and affirm; and the International Declaration of Human Rights.
Care at Otago Prison questioned after deaths
Police investigations into the death of an Otago remand prisoner have been stepped up following the involvement of New Zealand's police watchdog in the case.
The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) received a complaint from Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking in March regarding patient medical treatment at Otago Corrections Facility.
Mr. Brooking laid the complaint after he found out police had done "absolutely nothing'' in investigating the February 2011 death of Jai Davis. At the same time, Mr. Brooking also raised concerns with the IPCA about the police investigation into the October 2010 suicide of Otago prisoner Richard Barriball.
One month after Mr. Brooking laid his complaint, police dedicated a full-time team to Davis' investigation.
"Basically, he died two years ago and police had done absolutely nothing,'' Mr. Brooking said.
Police said officers had been investigating Davis' death on behalf of the coroner since it occurred, and that, "The investigation has been complex and has developed as new information has come to hand.'' They also stated that, "With regard to Richard Barriball, we confirm that we have been reviewing the investigation file in relation to his death.”
New Zealand Herald 24/9/13
Compensation for 'horrific' police beating
A man, who became a morphine-dependent invalid after a beating by a senior-ranking police officer, has won a five-year battle for compensation.
The man was left seriously injured after an attack by Senior Sergeant Ron Greatorex on May 6, 2005.
Greatorex was in an unmarked car, and not in uniform, when he flashed his lights to get Byfield to stop his SUV. When Byfield stopped at a railway barrier, Greatorex, wearing blue police-issue overalls without any official police insignia, approached him and told him to get out of his car. Byfield demanded to see formal police identification. Greatorex was unable to provide him with any.
Byfield, assuming Greatorex was just a workman, and fearing a possible road-rage incident, drove off. Greatorex followed him home and delivered what witnesses described as a violent beating.
Greatorex then charged Byfield with failing to stop for a police officer, assaulting an officer and escaping custody. Byfield was initially convicted, but that was quashed two years later on appeal to the High Court at Christchurch.
Byfield said he was left with such severe injuries after the assault he has still not recovered.
Police said Greatorex was investigated in 2011, but that, "none of the complaints made by Mr. Byfield were upheld," despite a High Court ruling quashing the man's convictions, and he still works as a senior-ranking police officer in Christchurch.
The Press 29/9/13
Human Rights Commission calls for more sign language education
Schools and early childhood centres need more resources to teach New Zealand sign language, the Human Rights Commission has advised following a year-long inquiry into the into the use and promotion of the language.
It is one of 15 recommendations the commission made in its report of the inquiry, designed to help remove barriers experienced by deaf people. Other recommendations included prioritising training in disability awareness and deaf culture, and sign language for early intervention health care staff.
The report also recommended the creation of an expert advisory group on sign language and a statutory board to take charge of promoting the value and use of sign language alongside the country's other official languages.
Disability Rights Commissioner Paul Gibson this morning told TV ONE's Breakfast the inquiry looked at the complaints the commission had received and found there had been changes in the deaf community's expectation, and that deaf people were not being included in many areas of life, through a lack of interpreters and a lack of support resources through the education system.
New Zealand sign language was made an official language in 2006, Mr. Gibson pointed out, and in 2008, New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, "And we are seeing sign language now as a right, a right to communicate, a right for all people to express themselves," he said.
However, Mr. Gibson said sign language is "not resourced within our education system. It's not promoted when we first identify a deaf or hearing-impaired child, to their families. Families don't know the opportunity that this creates."
In a statement accompanying the release of the report, Mr. Gibson said deaf people and other NZSL users were often not able to access their right to education.
"Before and during this Inquiry we received many stories of people being denied their right to communicate using NZSL, and children and families being discouraged from learning it."
Mr. Gibson said sign language on television during the Christchurch earthquakes was great, when it happened, but there was a battle behind the scenes to actually make that happen.
"Deaf people in Canterbury were denied the basic information they needed to find water, to find the support and resources that everybody needed during those times of earthquake, with a lack of communication through other ways," he said.
"It was great when interpreters were eventually seen on TV alongside people giving out the vital information through those emergencies. But it did have to be fought for. That shouldn't happen again," Mr. Gibson told Breakfast.
TVNZ One News 3/9/13
Critics hit out at 'unjust' KFC policy
The Human Rights Commission has been called upon to investigate concerns that workers with disabilities are losing their jobs at KFC because of its restructuring policy.
The Unite Union said disabled workers had been let go in the past year because of a KFC policy for all staff to be capable of all duties.
Restaurant Brands general manager of people and performance Jennifer Blight refused to answer questions about the policy, apparently called "all star level" staffing.
"These [questions] pertain to employment-related issues between Restaurant Brands and employees, and as such are matters that we do not discuss publicly,” she said.
New Zealand Herald 1/9/13
Employment Relations Amendment Bill 'breaches human rights'
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has made a critical submission on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee.
They have emphasised the fundamental nature of rights at work and found that proposed changes to collective bargaining and union rights should be rejected as inconsistent with New Zealand's international obligations. The HRC comments that, "New Zealand is falling short of international benchmarks [developed to measure Decent Work], a situation that will be exacerbated by the passing of the Bill.” The HRC also notes that since New Zealand's labour market is one of the most deregulated in the developed world "it is difficult to understand the justification for deregulating the New Zealand labour market even further, while at the same time breaching international obligations to protect employee's rights.”
Job personality tests may be illegal
Employment lawyers and psychologists say the increasing use of psychometric testing as part of restructures and redundancies in the public service could be illegal.
In July, The Dominion Post revealed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Department of Conservation had used psychometric testing in this way.
At the ministry, 135 health and safety inspectors had to take psychometric personality tests as part of restructuring in February.
The Hogan Assessments' The Science of Personality test asked them to answer true or false to questions such as: "I hate opera singing;" "I like to try new, exotic foods"; "I can use a microscope"; and "my best friends know how to party."
An Employment Court decision earlier this year found a psychometric test was unfair and used "irrelevant criteria" for deciding on redundancies, when Judge Graeme Colgan awarded a former Transfield Services worker $15,000 for wrongful dismissal after a psychometric test was used as part of redundancy considerations.
He ruled the test was irrelevant, of dubious value and led to a "plainly wrong" conclusion.
Now, new information provided to the Public Service Association under the Official Information Act shows the use of psychometric tests for internal restructuring is widespread.
At least 12 government departments indicated they used the testing as part of restructuring or change management. It was used by all departments as a recruitment tool but some restricted its use to management roles.
Dominion Post 10/9/13
Child worker law changes receive unanimous backing
A major law change that will introduce compulsory security screening of up to 376,000 people working with children has been unanimously backed in Parliament at the first hurdle.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett welcomed the cross-party support for the Vulnerable Children Bill, saying she had tried to keep politics out of the wide-ranging child protection measures.
The bill will create two new Acts, the Vulnerable Children Act, which will require the screening of workers, and the Child Harm Prevention Orders Act under which courts could issue orders to prevent a person from associating with children for up to 10 years, even if they had not been convicted of a crime.
It has been sent to a select committee, which was expected to report back in March next year.
New Zealand Herald 18/9/13
Marine Legislation Bill and Human Rights
Chairperson of the Aotearoa Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), Edward Miller, has expressed concerns about the process and human rights implications of the Marine Legislation Bill, which is now heading toward its third reading.
The Bill amends two other pieces of law, notably the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, which regulates offshore oil drilling. A subsequent supplementary order paper amends that legislation, allowing the Environment Minister to introduce regulations that designate exploratory oil drilling as a non-notified activity. This would mean that applications for exploratory oil drilling could be made and granted without notifying the public, granting the Minister sole discretion to assess the risk of significant environmental damage.
Mr. Miller argues that, “The right to participate in public affairs is a fundamental human right that ought not be traded for unproven economic gains.”
Earlier this year the government used a supplementary order paper to remove the right to protest at sea. Documents later released show that these changes were the result of a deal between oil company Shell and Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce.
HRLA has made a submission on the Discussion Document, recommending that the Minister refrain from regulating to make exploratory oil drilling non-notified until a full and open human rights assessment has been undertaken.
Commander upholds police complaints
Marlborough area police commander Inspector Simon Feltham has upheld veteran protester John Minto's complaints against police over their actions at the Waihopai spy base protest in January.
Minto said he had made several complaints about police in 30 years of protesting, but this was the first time one had ever been upheld, and two were upheld at once.
Minto had complained about two things: police officers at the protest breached policy by wearing Tasers; and that they acted unprofessionally in the way they dealt with a letter that the protest group was attempting to deliver to the base commander.
Feltham acknowledged that police had breached policy by wearing Tasers at a protest and that they had not acted to the professional standards police should.
Mr. Minto said the Independent Police Complaints Authority had initially taken the police's version to the letter and dismissed the complaint. "I was furious,” he said, “and wrote to them saying they hadn't talked to witnesses and were just taking the police's view. They then referred both complaints back to police."
Feltham said the manner in which protests at the Waihopai Base were policed had been reviewed in order to minimise future issues. This approach included more dialogue with protest groups and leaders during such events.
Marlborough Express 5/9/13
Privacy Commissioner accused of colluding with GCSB in cover up
Valerie Morse, one of the 17 people arrested in the Urewera raids, who requested details from the Privacy Commissioner about whether she was spied on by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has told that the Privacy Commissioner has upheld the GCSB’s ‘neither confirm nor deny’ response to people seeking to find out if they are among the 88 who were subject to illegal surveillance by the GCSB. She claims that this illegal activity has now been sanctioned by the Privacy Commissioner who has refused to require that the GCSB come clean and advise people if they have had their rights violated, allowing the GCSB to use the exceptions in the Privacy Act to cover up the systematic illegalities by this rogue agency.
In a press release she stated, “We know that there is a legal opinion sitting with the Solicitor-General that clearly says that the actions of the GCSB in spying on 88 New Zealanders and permanent residents had no basis in law, and was therefore illegal. Will Crown Law now step in and initiate a prosecution against the agency or will it also collude in this cover-up?
“It is nonsensical to say that ‘national security’ will be compromised by telling people that their rights have been violated. National security is about protecting New Zealanders from exactly this type of activity, not about protecting the GCSB from public scrutiny and prosecution. The GCSB must advise those people who have been illegally spied upon; they have the right to know, and those people must have the right to take legal action against the GCSB. This is a cover up of epic proportions.”