Who saved the right to silence in the courtroom?
There was much back-slapping and chest-beating in Parliament yesterday during the second reading of the Criminal Procedure Bill, which has shed its provision that would have eroded the accused's right to silence without having that held against them.
The original bill required the defence to disclose all elements in dispute to the prosecution before a trial, and failing to do this meant a judge or jury could see the accused as more likely to be guilty.
Justice Minister Simon Power could have saved the provision by watering it down, but it would have passed by a single vote and the majority would have included three Act MPs who were not returning next term.
Mr Power eventually secured the support of the Labour, Maori and Act parties by dropping the provision altogether, as well as softening the bill in relation to jury trials, trials in the absence of the accused, and penalties for non-compliance in procedure.
He had wanted the support of the party's parliamentary leader John Boscawen, who showed little modesty in proclaiming that the Act Party had saved the right to silence.
"I was asked by the Justice Minister, by Mr Power, in his office, to provide him the five votes to pass this bill. I have no doubt that had I given that support in August, this bill would have passed," Mr Boscawen trumpeted.
"When I took this back to the Act caucus, Act's five MPs were absolutely united that we would not support this bill in the form it was presented to the house."
While he could claim some credit, bestowing it on his party is less convincing because a majority of his caucus supported a proposal to remove the right to silence, if that had been the will of the Rules Committee - a panel of legal experts.
National MP Chester Borrows said it was Mr Power who deserved the credit for securing broad consensus.
"There is a need to have some consensus, not only because of the numbers in this debating chamber, but also the need to have enduring criminal law so people know the law they live under."
But Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni said the party's justice spokesman Charles Chauvel was the saviour, as it was his minority report that drew the line in the sand that other parties lined up behind.
Mr Chauvel proposed further changes at the bill's committee stage, including a requirement for the judge to give an indication of the sentence, which would allow a plea on that basis and potentially save court time.
The bill passed its second reading with the Green and Mana Parties and Chris Carter opposing. It should pass into law before the House rises next week.