Free Speech Coalition
It is sombre to write this, but late yesterday afternoon the Court’s judgement in our case against Regional Facilities Auckland (a subsidiary of Auckland Council) and Phil Goff landed in our email inbox.
There’s nothing positive to highlight in the Judge’s decision. It is a disaster, and the implications for free speech are terrifying. In short, the Court found that notwithstanding the facilities being owned by ratepayers, Regional Facilities Auckland was not exercising a “public power”, “public function” or “public duty” in deciding to cancel the event. The decision, despite the Mayor’s comments, was not “governmental” in nature and therefore found not to be reviewable by the Court.
Mayor Goff may gloat. The decision hands potential abusers of public office, and oligarchical groups controlling local government, a new strategy.
The likes of “Auckland Peace Action” will be delighted. Officialdom can now confidently defer to their thuggery to cancel speakers at the hint of any opposition to speakers or views.
Our lawyers are as astonished as we are. It will take them a day or two to reflect on the ramifications. But we could not have had it argued by more respectable and authoritative lawyers and counsel. We could not have had a better case to run: a Mayor in the media claiming credit for ‘not allowing’ speakers he doesn’t approve of. The Court has let us down with seeming indifference to public law responsibilities to uphold freedoms.
No doubt the Coalition’s key volunteers and major donors will meet later this week to decide where to from here. Please don’t hesitate to drop any of Patrick, David, Rachel, Stephen or myself a line if you have any feedback or thoughts on that.
On the one hand, it is such a knock to the great work the team has done over the last 12 months, but on the other, it shows precisely why forces for free speech are so desperately needed.
We’ve got an uphill battle.
Our press release is below:
Free Speech Coalition astonished with winning of ‘thugs veto’ over use of Auckland public facilities
Reacting to the decision of His Honour Justice Pheroze Jagose, Free Speech Coalition Counsel, Jack Hodder QC, said:
“With our clients, we will need to consider carefully what the judgment does and does not say, and consider the options, including rights of appeal. The judgment effectively avoids having to engage with the main driver of the judicial review: that an essentially public body appears to have yielded with speed and without serious inquiry to the ‘thugs’ veto’.”
“There is a long tradition of local authorities providing facilities used for political dialogue, notwithstanding that these may attract protests; and the essence of the judicial review was whether Regional Facilities Auckland’s existence changes that. According to this decision, it does.”
Coalition Spokesman, Jordan Williams, said:
“We are astonished by this decision – which concludes that the decision to de-platform the Canadian speakers is not reviewable because the Council has vested the speaking venues in Regional Facilities Auckland. It is deffering the rights of freedom of speech and assembly, on the basis of the Council’s preferred ownership structure.”
“Effectively the Court has said to Phil Goff and other Mayors, if you want to shut out unwelcome speakers in the future, just give control of your community gathering assets to a team of hand-picked trusties who will safely suppress those you disagree with.”
“This is the kind of decision for which past generations of bullying local elites would have dreamed. For example they could have shut down access to unpopular religions (like the Salvation Army when it opposed the interests of publicans during the temperance campaigns) or workers promoting unions, or anti-war activists 40 years ago.”
“This decision could allow politicians to set up front organisations to gag the spread of vegan or vegetarian ideas in farming communities. It would also allow councils to cancel meetings held by women’s rights groups discussing whether transgender women should have access to women’s toilets and changing rooms.”
“If we can raise the money to appeal the decision, we will be looking very closely at doing so.”