The Crown Law Office has just published the terms of office for crown solicitors. Many outside the legal profession may be unaware that Crown Law prosecutes very few cases directly. They contract private law firms and lawyers to do it for them as Crown Solicitors.
For those interested the remuneration rates are $240 an our for a senior prosecutor, $192 for an intermediate one and $140 for a junior prosecutor. This is rather more than legal aid rates which vary from $92 an hour to $159 an hour.
Now I’ve got no issue with the long-standing practice of having private law firms be contracted to Crown Law to prosecute criminals. And I presume Labour doesn’t either, as they never changed the practice when in Government, and have no policy to do so.
Labour believes that incarceration should be the responsibility of the state. There are few more serious powers that a government has than taking away someone’s liberty.
We believe that the act of taking away someone’s liberty and freedom is one of the most invasive state responsibilities, and as such needs to be handled as a core state role.
So on this basis, how can Labour claim the private sector can have no role in managing the prison, but they are fine to prosecute the offenders which leads to them going into prison? I’d say prosecution is arguably far more of a core crown responsibility than merely managing a prison.
My best guess is it comes down to unions. Labour tends to oppose the private sector when it seeks to be involved in an area where the public sector equivalent is highly unionised. Because unions fund, support and even vote on policy and candidates for Labour. So Labour’s often major motivation is to get more members for unions.
Public prison officers and public school teachers tend to be unionised, so charter schools and private prisons are a threat to them, as it may result in fewer union members and hence less support from unions.
Crown lawyers are not particularly unionised, so there is no advantage to Labour in having prosecutions done solely by Crown Law Office. Hence their wildly inconsistent policies, which they dress up as principle.
So the next time Labour rails against private prisons, ask them why they don’t have a problem with private law firms prosecuting on behalf of the state – surely a function which is far more core than merely managing a prison under terms set down by the Department of Corrections.
Political commentator David Farrar posts at Kiwiblog.