8 December 2008

Opening of Parliament Ceremonies

> Parliament: "Opening of parliament ceremonies on 8 and 9 December 2008" The Parliament website has an excellent explanation of the detail and history of the two opening of Parliament ceremonies (Commission and State) that will take place today and tomorrow:
Commission Opening of Parliament Monday, 8 December 2008 at 2 pm Opening This is the day on which Parliament is formally opened. The Governor-General sends Commissioners to the House to declare Parliament open on his behalf. The Commissioners are usually senior Judges. The Clerk of the House will read the document from the Governor-General that authorises the Commissioners to act for the Governor-General. The Commissioners will then declare Parliament open and leave the Chamber. Swearing-in The first essential activity for members once Parliament has been opened is for them to be sworn in. By law, no member may sit or vote in the House before taking the Oath of Allegiance or making an Affirmation of Allegiance to the Crown. The Clerk of the House is authorised by the Governor-General to administer the oath or the affirmation to members on the opening day. The Clerk will read this authority to the House and will then invite members to come to the left of the Speaker’s Chair, in alphabetical order, to take the oath or affirmation. The terms of the oath and the affirmation are prescribed in the Oaths and Declarations Act 1957. Members may swear or affirm in English or in Māori. After each member has taken the oath or made the affirmation, the member goes to the other side of the Chamber and signs an official register that provides evidence that they are entitled to sit and vote in the House. Election of Speaker Once members have been sworn in, they must elect someone to chair the meetings of the House. This person is known as the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Clerk presides over the House for the election of a Speaker and calls for nominations. Members nominate themselves. There is no debate on the election of a Speaker. If only one member is nominated, that member is automatically elected. If two members are nominated the matter is decided by a personal vote. For this purpose the bells are rung for seven minutes and members vote in the voting lobbies for each candidate. Abstentions are permitted, but not proxy votes. If three or more members are nominated the Clerk asks each member (in alphabetical order) to declare for whom the member votes. Abstentions are permitted, but not proxy votes. If a candidate for election obtains more than half the votes cast, that person is elected. Otherwise, the lowest polling candidate drops out until there are only two candidates remaining. At that point the matter is decided by a personal vote. Confirmation of Speaker Monday, 8 December 2008 Governor-General’s confirmation of Speaker Although the House has elected a Speaker, by law that election only takes effect when the new Speaker is confirmed in office by the Governor-General. Until then the Speaker is known as the Speaker-Elect. The purpose of this ceremony is for that confirmation to be obtained. The Speaker-Elect will march in a procession led by the Serjeant-at-Arms and followed by the Clerk of the House and the Deputy Clerk. At this time the Serjeant-at-Arms carries the Mace (the symbol of the House) in the crook of his arm to demonstrate that the Speaker has not yet been confirmed in office. When the Governor-General enters, the Speaker-Elect will present himself or herself to the Governor-General and ask for His Excellency’s confirmation as Speaker. When His Excellency confirms the House’s choice as Speaker, the Serjeant-at-Arms will raise the Mace to his shoulder, as, from that moment on the Speaker is fully in office. House’s privileges The first thing that the Speaker does after being confirmed in office is to ask His Excellency, on behalf of the House, for confirmation of the privileges enjoyed by the House. The House’s privileges are the legal powers that the members have to protect the good name of Parliament and to enable them to carry out their duties properly. His Excellency will reply to the Speaker’s request for confirmation of these powers. Authority to swear in Members Although the Clerk of the House administered the oath or affirmation at the Commission Opening to all members who were present in the House, there may be some members who were unable to attend. In addition there may be new members elected during the life of the Parliament. All of these members will have to take the Oath of Allegiance or make an Affirmation of Allegiance before they can take their seats. Before the ceremony concludes, therefore, the Governor-General gives authority to the Speaker to administer the oath or affirmation to members who may need to take it in the future. State Opening of Parliament Tuesday, 9 December 2008 at 2 pm On this occasion the Governor-General comes to Parliament House to tell the members of Parliament the Government’s reasons for bringing Parliament together to meet. By custom, the Governor-General does not enter the House’s own Chamber (a tradition followed for over 300 years as a reaction to an occasion when a King of England entered the Chamber of the House of Commons in an attempt to arrest some members of Parliament). The ceremony is therefore held in the Legislative Council Chamber, the chamber in which the upper house used to meet until its abolition on 1 January 1951. The Governor-General will (after taking his seat on the Throne) send a messenger, known as Black Rod (so called because of the staff which he carries) to the House to summon members to the Council Chamber. On reaching the House’s Chamber, the door is shut so that Black Rod must knock on the Chamber door. When he has been admitted he gives the House His Excellency’s message and the House, led by the Serjeant-at-Arms (with the Mace) and the Speaker, march in procession to the Council Chamber. When the members have assembled in the Council Chamber, the Governor-General informs them of the Government’s reasons for calling Parliament to meet at this time. This is known as the Speech from the Throne. The Speech is a statement of the issues that the Government wishes members to consider. It usually contains a reference to important bills that the Government intends to introduce. At the conclusion of the Speech, His Excellency presents a copy of it to the Speaker and departs. When the Vice-Regal party has left, the members follow the Speaker back to their Chamber in procession to carry on with their business. When the House resumes, the Speaker reports the Speech from the Throne to the House. Over subsequent days the House will debate the issues set out in the Speech, in the Address in Reply debate.

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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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