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Friday, 4 July 2014

Sovereigns and the rule of law

It is occasionally remarked that the Queen is above the law in the United Kingdom, on the basis that since criminal proceedings are always brought in her name (hence R for Regina, in criminal cases, which are usually styled R v (defendant)).  I suspect, though, that if the Queen for some reason committed a serious offence, consequences would be bound to flow in some form or another. The public outcry would be such that she would be compelled to pay compensation to the victim in some serious amount, and in all likelihood to abdicate as well.

If on the other hand any other members of the Royal family committed an offence, they would not have the protection of the Queen's prosecutorial position, and could expect to be charged and dealt with like anyone else.  That, of course, is one of the cornerstones of the rule of law: everyone is equal before the law, and neither wealth nor privilege offers any sort of defence. It is true that in sentencing someone the court would take into account their particular circumstances, as indeed would the Crown Prosecution Service when deciding whether to bring charges in the first place.  But there are limits.  And the usual answer to someone who protests that a criminal prosecution would ruin his personal life is to point out that he should have thought of that before committing the crime.

All of the above is, or should be, fairly trite.  The reason I mention it is because of this seemingly farcical story from New Zealand, where according to the New Zealand Herald:

The son of Maori King Tuheitia Paki has been discharged without conviction today on charges of burglary, theft and drink driving, after his defence successfully argued a conviction would ruin his chances of succeeding to the throne.
Korotangi Paki, 19, had previously pleaded guilty to all the charges, which related to two separate incidents dating from March this year and October 2013.
His drink driving charge -- in which he blew a reading almost double the legal adult alcohol level -- was only revealed in court today after Judge Philippa Cunningham lifted a suppression order.
Defence for Paki, Paul Wicks QC, said the consequences of a conviction would outweigh the seriousness of the crime, because it would render the teen -- who will become a father in September -- ineligible for the role of king.
This is absurd nonsense.  Apart from anything else, I doubt Maoris would want a King who had committed such offences.  People are killed every day around the world by drunk drivers, and terrorised by burglaries.  It raises the question of how serious an offence Mr Paki would have to commit before it would be thought proportionate to convict him.

Other readers may be surprised to hear of a Maori King at all.  It is effectively a ceremonial role which is a throwback to the wars of the nineteenth century.  Wikipedia as ever has some more detail, which seems broadly accurate in this instance.

New Zealand usually prides it self on its adherence to the rule of law, and its generally eminent status in every survey of international standards of living, in contradistinction to what used to be called "tin pot dictatorships".  This sort of story is straight from the worst annals of hapless dictatorships worldwide.

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