Labour proposes urgent debate on Wilson resignation

Labour has failed to force a snap debate in Parliament on matters relating to last week's resignation of Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson.Parliament's Speaker Lockwood Smith ruled out the debate on two grounds.First, he said, as Justice Wilson's resignation does not take effect until 5pm on 5 November 2010, the proposed topic of debate has not yet technically occurred.

Labour has failed to force a snap debate in Parliament on matters relating to last week’s resignation of Supreme Court Justice Bill Wilson.

Parliament’s Speaker Lockwood Smith ruled out the debate on two grounds.

First, he said, as Justice Wilson’s resignation does not take effect until 5pm on 5 November 2010, the proposed topic of debate has not yet technically occurred.

More importantly, he continued, the debate would risk breaching the constitutional separation of Parliament and the judiciary.

The House’s has a “well-established rule” that questions relating to the administration of justice or the conduct of a judge must be brought before the House through a notice of motion, he said.

Otherwise, “it is unconstitutional to reflect on or speak disrespectfully of a judge”.

A notice of motion to remove a judge from office may be put forward in Parliament if he or she is found guilty of misconduct and does not offer to resign.

Labour’s shadow attorney-general David Parker, who put forward today's application for urgent debate, argued that Justice Wilson’s resignation is a matter of high public importance.

“When a judge of our highest court retires or resigns under a cloud, that is a matter of public interest that ought to be able to be discussed,” he told Parliament.

“We’re actually protecting the institution of the courts and their reputation.”

But the Speaker, after twenty minutes of debate, held firm to his refusal to allow the urgent debate to proceed.

He reminded Labour that acting Attorney-General Judith Collin’s handling of Justice Wilson’s resignation can be challenged during Parliament's daily question time session, as per usual.

Labour may be able to raise the matter during this week’s general debate, which allows members to debate topics of their choosing - assuming the Speaker doesn't rule all debate on Justice Wilson's judicial conduct out of order.

Applications for urgent debate, which require the House to set aside its pre-arranged business to debate matters of urgent public importance, only rarely succeed - and are only rarely put forward by Opposition parties.