Over the last few months, we have urged Minister of Justice Andrew Little to make sure that the appointment of human rights commissioners is non-partisan by including opposition parties in the process. Now, the Minister has agreed to do so.
In May, our chair, Peter Hosking wrote in Newsroom:
Justice Minister Andrew Little has moved quickly on the report by retired Judge Coral Shaw into the Human Rights Commission’s handling of sexual harassment complaints – making the appointment of new commissioners “a matter of priority”.
But it is important he, and Parliament, get these important appointments right and we should be looking to the best practices worldwide to find and endorse non-political and independent people.
The terms of three of the four commissioners have expired or are about to and the review recommended the recruitment process for any new appointments be commenced “without undue delay”.
Before making new appointments, however, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed. The Review recommended the position and person descriptions of the role of commissioners be “reviewed and consulted on widely… in accord with the Paris Principles” (these are international standards for the roles, functions and structures of national human rights institutions like the Human Rights Commission).
A month later, this NZ Herald published a second piece by Peter Hosking and our management committee member Margaret Bedggood, which argued:
Some appointments in the past have been controversial. Justified or not, controversy tends to hamper both the ability of these commissioners to fulfil their responsibilities (given their need to maintain a high profile in the media in order to promote human rights issues) and the credibility of the commission itself.
One way to minimise disputed appointments in our polarised political system would be to involve opposition parties in the appointment process.
Now, the Minister has appointed a non-partisan panel to screen the candidates for Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Race Relations Commissioner and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. The panel’s members are Pauline Winter, Sir John Clarke and Al Morrison, and they are due to report back to the Minister in August.
Importantly, Minister Andrew Little has also pledged to consult opposition parties in the appointment process.
This is an important step towards implementing the Paris Principles. We welcome this positive response of a Minister, who has not only read the recommendations that we published in May and June, but implemented them.”