Aug 8, 2008

The Significance Of This Privileges Committee Referral

Richard Worth reminds us about the significance of this referral to the Privileges Committee and what the Committee does [the comments in square brackets are ours]:

This is the first referral of a privileges issue to the Committee in this Parliament.

The Privileges Committee does not have decision-making authority - it reports to Parliament with its recommendation.

* The Committee hears evidence in public [will Winston or Helen Clark allow a public grilling? They do not have a majority. The Greens don't much like Winston, the Maori Party don't like Winston, and Dunne wants straight answers. No need to mention ACT. And National seems to be growing balls back when it comes to Mr Peters. If Parliament is disolved the matter will not be heard]
* It endeavours to conduct its proceedings in accordance with normal judicial principles
* It does not regard itself as being confined to considering only issues referred to by the Speaker in making its ruling
* In general it has accepted that the civil law standard of proof on a balance of probabilities is appropriate when it is making decisions on matters of fact or inference.

Parliament has wide ranging powers of punishment including the power to imprison. This power has been used by the House of Commons in England on literally hundreds of occasions. There has been no instance in New Zealand of imprisonment although a proposal was debated in Parliament in 1896 that the President of the Bank of New Zealand who had refused to answer certain questions put to him by a Select Committee be imprisoned. The proposal was defeated and a fine imposed on the President instead.