The Corrections Amendment Bill has been back in the House this week – on Tuesday for its second reading, yesterday for the committee stages, and depending on progress in the House it may come back later today (Thursday) for its third and final reading.
The Bill is a shabby piece of lawmaking, which among other things will further embed private management of prisons; will change the strip search regime in a way almost guaranteed to make prisoner – prison officer relations more fraught and so more likely to lead to violence; will allow for the denial of the minimum entitlement prisoners currently have of one hour of exercise per day, and will do other unhelpful things.
The Bill got even shabbier when we saw an S.O.P (a proposed amendment) presented by the Minister late on Tuesday, with no forewarning to opposition parties. The amendment is intended to make a retrospective change to the law, to cover the government’s tracks in regard to the smoking ban the then Minister Collins imposed about 18 months ago, without any legal authority.
The government is deeply embarrassed to have lost a High Court case brought by an inmate at Paremoremeo prison (who is a non-smoker, as it happens), where Justice Gilbert stated unequivocally that the ban declared by the Minister was “unlawful, invalid, and of no effect”.
The inmate who brought the case to Court put out a release yesterday pointing out that “The government’s hypocrisy is mind-blowing. It imprisons about 9000 people for lawbreaking [the average prison muster at any given time is 8500 - 9000], yet it demonstrates an abject disregard for the rule of law itself – a case of do as I say, not as I do”.
You would have to say, he’s got a point. As I highlighted in a speech last night, government members are fond of saying that it is ok to transgress prisoners’ basic rights because that is part of the consequence of their offending. But when the government itself has broken the law, it is ok to retrospectively change the law to avoid the potential consequences?