Lawyers call for abolition of sedition laws

The Law Commission has formally called on Parliament to abolish laws which prohibit rebellion against the state or the inciting of lawlessness.

Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer said the archaic offence of sedition was too wide and unclear and had been used to muzzle unpopular political speech.

Last year the commission asked for comment on its view that sedition laws should be repealed following police reviving the dormant law.

The review followed Timothy Selwyn being found guilty of sedition after he put an axe through Prime Minister Helen Clark's electorate office window and in a pamphlet called on others to commit similar acts in response to the foreshore legislation.

The Court of Appeal yesterday rejected an appeal for the conviction saying it was sound in law.

The man was also jailed for unrelated charges of benefit fraud, but the case provoked concern about the use of sedition laws.

More recently a barman in Dunedin was charged with sedition after he published a promotional pamphlet offering students the chance to win a petrol-soaked couch and swap a litre of petrol for a litre of beer.

Sir Geoffrey said today after hearing submissions the commission had decided it was "high time" sedition laws were removed from the statutes.

The Commission's report, Reforming the Law of Sedition, tabled in Parliament today recommends the seditious offences set out in sections 81 to 85 of the Crimes Act 1961 be repealed and not replaced.

"Where behaviour that would be covered by the existing sedition provisions needs to be punished, it can be more appropriately dealt with by other provisions of the criminal law," Sir Geoffrey said.

"By abolishing sedition, we will better protect the values of democracy and free speech."

Sedition is a historic law intended to protect the Crown from attempts to undermine its authority. In New Zealand law it also stands as an offence of inciting lawlessness and disorder.

The commission said in its report to Parliament that offences such as incitement to break laws, conspiracy and treason remained in statute and charges of sedition invaded the democratic value of free speech for no adequate public reason.

- NZPA

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