26 September 2007

The MP's son, Bebo, and homophobic abuse

> GayNZ.com: "Anti-gay webpage linked to Nat MP's son" > NZ Herald: "English: Attack on my son disgusting" > The Press: "English to see lawyers over gay website's attack on son > Kiwiblog: "Gaynz and English" The homophobic comments on a bebo site (purportedly) from Bill English's son has hit the news through an article from GayNZ.com. The decision to run with the story has been criticised by some. I'm not convinced that the issue - or, rather, Bill English's response to the issue, isn't a legitimate matter for concern and discussion; notably, English has so far refused to condemn these type of comments. I've collected some of my comments I've posted on KiwiBlog which convey some of my thinking: - - - - - - deanknight Says: September 26th, 2007 at 8:38 am A couple of things: 1. Having viewed the site myself, the characterisation of the comments on the Bebo site as “abusive statements which carried homophobic overtones” probably understates them somewhat. 2. While the inappropriate comments of an MPs son do not directly impugn an MP’s credibility themselves, in my view, it is fair to judge the MP by their response to the incident. Notably, at least from reported comments, Bill English does not condemn the comments on the website. That, I believe, speaks volumes about Bill English himself - and, on any view, is related to his political position and is fair comment. - - - - - deanknight Says: September 26th, 2007 at 9:50 am Some more thoughts: 1. It’s certainly not the first case where the actions of MPs’ or Ministers’ children or family have been raised and where they have been asked to respond to. Eg:- Annette King’s daughter crashed a car;- Robyn McDonald’s daughter’s joy-riding;- Mark Gosche’s son crashed a car;- Tuariki Delamere’s son drug possession.As I said, while these incidents do not directly reflect on the MPs / Ministers themselves, the MPs / Ministers are legitimately judged by their reaction to the incident. 2. The issue of homophobia - particularly amongst youth - and internet bullying and misconduct is a public issue at the moment. It’s no wonder gay and lesbian youth organisations are so outraged by the incident. It’s legitimate to put questions about that to a MP - particularly when the issue arising close to home. 3. On whether it is proper to target one youth in particular because of his father’s position, you will see from the editorial on gaynz.com that they thought long and hard about that. Personally, I’m not saying their decision to go ahead was proper - as Virginia Woolf once said, the line between public and private is sometimes very difficult to draw. 4. However, as it is now in the public arena, I think it is proper to judge Bill English by his failure to condemn homophobic activity such as this. I’m not saying he should discipline his son in public but we might have expected him to make it clear that he disapproves of the behaviour (if indeed he does) rather than reacting by calling in the defamation lawyers! 5. I’m not trying to pigeon-hole this incident in a partisan-way. I’ve previously expressed my disappointment about Helen Clark’s reaction to allegations of homosexuality about her husband. While the allegations about her husband seemed absurd (and would seem to fall within the same familial exemption that others contend applies), I thought her reaction reflected poorly on her - particularly her expression of disgust and suggestion of that it was a smear (in my view, it may have been inaccurate but it’s not denigratory to say someone is gay). - - - - - deanknight Says: September 26th, 2007 at 9:55 am PS: I think it is entirely proper to also judge John Key (adversely that is) for his comments on the propriety of the comments on the site: http://www.stuff.co.nz/4214799a10.html “Mr Key said social networking sites and some of the conversation on them could be “pretty rugged”. “But the reality is this has gone on since kids started talking behind the bike sheds. Part of growing up is expressing yourself. I’m not defending it, I’m just simply saying these sites are out there.”" Personally, I’m looking for leaders who condemn, rather than try and excuse, this behaviour. - - - - - - And, as an aside, the suggestion that English or his son might have a claim in defamation or privacy against GayNZ.com seem far-fetched. A claim in defamation would only get off the ground if the allegations are misattributed, that is, the Bebo site and comments are not made by English's son.

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Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"


This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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