December 17, 2004

Sedation to Conspiracy

Written by Mister Neil Falloon with extra Googling by MediaCow...

Tim Selwyn is being charged with seditious conspiracy – a “pretty scary” offence according to Gary Gotlieb of the Auckland District Law Society.

The last prominent case involving disloyalty to the Crown earned Dutch double-agent Harry Duynhoven boutique legislation to allow him to keep his seat in Parliament despite having sworn allegiance to a foreign power.

This time around it all seems like pretty frightening stuff – allegations of indigenous Ahmed Zaouis running around without Dominican friars to keep them out of trouble. Accusations of dark plottings in Grey Lynn to topple our Popular and Competent Prime Minister. A purported “conspiracy” – a cabal of anarchists bent on “exciting disaffection”.

These facts are not disputed: On 18 November an axe was lodged in the window of Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Sandringham, Mt Albert electorate office. After a tip-off to a radio station, flyers were found on the corner of Ponsonby Road. The flyers said the axe was a protest against “the Government's attempts to steal, by confiscation, Maori land in the form of the Seabed and Foreshore Bill”. A group of “concerned Pakeha” claimed responsibility.

Selwyn, who was a member of the ACT party in its earliest mid-90’s incarnation, noted to TV3 last night that seditious offences were a feature of war-time governments – but then, he continued, so were government land grabs.

The Land Grab

After the foreshore and seabed legislation was passed by parliament this year, Selwyn circulated a petition asking the Governor General to refuse the Royal Assent to the legislation, on the grounds that it contradicted of the second and third articles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

In an email accompanying the petition, Selwyn explained he believes the Foreshore and Seabed Bill:

“contains utterly unnecessary and discriminatory land confiscation provisions that will haunt and divide our nation should it be enacted. Access by everyone to the foreshore and seabed was all anyone ever wanted, and yet that was used as an excuse for a Government land grab. Rushed through parliament under urgency, it is a mess. I believe the Bill is, basically, unconstitutional…”

The Charges

Selwyn is charged with seditious conspiracy. The word 'conspiracy' would indicate the involvement of more than one person in an activity.

In this particular case, allegations against co-conspirators are conspicuous by their absence. Nobody has appeared in court charged with putting the axe into the window.

Selwyn says he is unsure which part of the “conspiracy” he is accused of participating in.

He says there is considerable uncertainty regarding the accusation he does face. (This perhaps befits a charge that nobody in this country has faced for at least 50 years.)

Selwyn says he has been given four contrasting descriptions of the charges that are seeing him attend court in his pinstriped suit. He says the charges have been incorrectly attributed to various sections of the Crimes Act, and the charge has been labelled in different ways.

One police document rather sweetly shows the charge against Selwyn is “sedation to conspiracy.”

The "Publicity Stunt" Angle

Some journalists suggest this could be a “publicity stunt” for Selwyn’s new venture, a current affairs magazine called Tu Meke. The project has been in the works for some time. A mocked-up sample, produced in April, the "zero issue", can be viewed here.

The (impressively designed) edition of Tu Meke includes a commentary on the Brash Orewa speech, consistent with the views expressed by Selwyn in his petition to the Governor General.

The “publicity stunt” theory appears to hinge on the assumptions that Selwyn is guilty and would admit guilt for the purposes of claiming credit.

The "Serious Test of Justice" Angle

University of Auckland constitutional law expert Bill Hodge expects the Bill of Rights Act’s freedom of speech guarantees to effectively eviscerate the content of the Crimes Act’s sedition laws, by making the scope for publications or statements to be regarded as unlawful much narrower.

Just Not Cricket

The conditions on Selwyn’s bail imposed yesterday included a prohibition that stops him straying within 50 meters of Clark’s electorate office in Sandringham Road. The restraint is reportedly minimal because the Crown accepted it may be unreasonable to remove his access to Eden Park across the street during the international cricket season.

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