Examination of Witnesses (Questions 520
WEDNESDAY 9 MAY 2007
DR MATTHEW PALMER
Q520 Lord Rowlands:
And the Canadian experience?
Dr Palmer: The Canadian experience, particularly
in terms of constitutional questions, is much more extensive;
in references being given to the Supreme Court of Canada, for
example, to determine or declare what the constitutional conventions
might be with respect to secession by Quebec, or similar sorts
Q521 Lord Rowlands:
The territorial constitutional side?
Dr Palmer: Yes.
Q522 Lord Goodlad:
The New Zealand Cabinet Manual contains guidance to Ministers
on the proper limits of comments on judicial decisions. We have
heard some conflicting evidence during this inquiry on revising
this country's Ministerial Code to include similar guidance. Do
you think that would be desirable?
Dr Palmer: From a New Zealand point of view,
I think it is very desirable that those rules are in the Cabinet
Manual, but it should not be thought that the existence of the
rules guarantee that the behaviour follows. The Cabinet Manual
is interpreted by the Prime Minister rather than any court or
any other body, so it is essentially interpreted politically;
and if the political will is not there at the highest level to
support the judiciary, then those rules would not be followed.
Q523 Lord Goodlad:
What has been the experience of their being followed or not followed?
Dr Palmer: I would say that the experience has
been mixed. There have been increasing instances of some negative
comment by Ministers about courts and court decisions, which are
clearly in breach of the manual; but I would suggest that it is
better to have the statements there than not have them at all.
Q524 Baroness O'Cathain:
Do you know about our communications and the recent judicial communications
set-up that we have here?
Dr Palmer: I have heard something
Q525 Baroness O'Cathain:
Which is supposed to take the steam out of off-the-cuff comments
by Ministers on judges, about sentences, et cetera. So you do
not really know what it is all about. I was wondering whether
you had a similar sort of thing, to try to take the heat out of
situations which might arise, if there is a ministerial comment
which, despite the fact that you have your Cabinet Manual, could
cause a bit of a ruckus with the judges.
Dr Palmer: No, we really do not have a system
that polices that, or that tries to limit it significantly.
Q526 Baroness O'Cathain:
Do you have a voracious media which hangs on every word that the
judges say about sentencing, and take comments out of context?
Dr Palmer: They can do, yes.
Q527 Baroness O'Cathain:
How do you deal with that?
Dr Palmer: It is dealt with mainly as a matter
of self-restraint between the branches of government. Usually
it is for the Attorney General, who is a member of the Cabinet
and possibly our equivalent to your Lord ChancellorI am
not sureto defend the judiciary. The Attorney will do that
to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the political circumstances
of the time. If criticism gets too severe, then the Chief Justice
herself may issue a statement; however, that would be fairly unusual.
I suppose that at the moment the situation is simply reliant on
Chairman: With that, I think we have
to stop, but I am most grateful to you. If you can give us any
further evidence on how the capital-D dialogue works between the
branches, that would be of very great interest to the Committee.
Thank you very much indeed for coming.