«1 A Public/Private Power Play: How to Approach the Question of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990’s Direct Application Under Section 3(b)? ...»
A Public/Private Power Play: How to
Approach the Question of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act
1990’s Direct Application Under Section 3(b)?
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of Bachelor of Laws
University of Otago
To Andrew Geddis for your supervision throughout the year
To my wonderful Mother Judith and sister ‘Ema for putting up with me in the end-run
To Emma Peart and Anthony Wicks for helpful discussions in the tutor’s office And finally, to the coastline of Dunedin for providing rare moments of sanity This paper uses a slightly modified version of the New Zealand Universities Law Review style guide. In particular, frequently referenced statutes and sections are abbreviated in the main text.
Introduction 1 Chapter I. The public/private distinction – theory A. The liberal conception of the public/private distinction 3
1. Public/private, State/non-State 4 B. The emergence of a functional public/private distinction 5
1. What is a public function? 6 C. Assessing the distinction as applied by the courts 8
1. Masking indeterminacy? 8
2. Overly reductive? 9
2. Overly formal? 10 D. Where to from here? Methodology 10 Chapter II. s3 - an overview 12 A. Background 12 B. Section 3(a) 14
1. Identifying the branches of government 15
2. The relationship between s3(a) and s3(b) 16 C. Section 3(b) 18 1. “By any person or body” 18 2. “Acts done … in the performance of” 18 3. “Conferred or imposed … by or pursuant to law” 19
4. Public function, power, or duty 21 C. s3 in the wider context of NZBORA 22
1. s6 in the wider context of the HRA(UK) 23 D. Summary 23 Chapter III: The courts and s3(b) NZBORA 25 A. Ransfield v The Radio Network Ltd 25
1. Contextual functionality 26 B. The Utility of Judicial Review Cases 28
1. The review approach – a brief overview 28
2. Relevance to NZBORA? 29 C. Entity focussed considerations 31
1. Motive 32
2. Institutional/relational considerations 33
3. Overall 35 D. Function, power, or duty focussed considerations 36
1. Characterising the function 36
Traditionally, rights-instruments only directly constrain the exercise of power by the State. Under s3(b) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA) however, direct application may extend to any person or body acting “in the performance of any public function, power, or duty”.1 This functional public/private distinction is thus a central issue when determining NZBORA’s direct application to an entity that is not part of the legislature, executive, or judiciary.2 In an era where the boundaries between public and private have grown more faint and less valuable,3 the distinction is far from self-revealing.
The problem this presents is how best to ensure that the distinction operates in a manner that catches appropriate powers, functions, or duties without imposing onerous obligations on private actors and civil society. After all, there is often already legislative and common law provision for rights protection against private actors.4 This paper explores the rationale behind s3(b), assesses how the courts have approached, and might in future approach the issue, and considers the desirability of alternative approaches. The real difficulties arise in relation to situations where entities voluntarily perform functions that may impact on rights and how far, if at all, the autonomy of these entities should be restricted.
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s3(b) New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, s3(a) Catherine Donnelly Delegation of Governmental Power to Private Parties (2007) 6-8 For example, the Human Rights Act 1993. See chap 4 for a fuller discussion of existing rightsprotecting mechanisms.
In considering these issues, this paper is divided into four chapters. The first and second consider the general theoretical underpinnings of the public/private distinction, and then look to the specific functional public/private distinction enacted in NZBORA, considered comparatively with the Human Rights Act (UK) 1998 (HRA(UK)). It is argued that there is no objective public/private distinction. Instead, the functional public/private distinction, in this context, invokes a set of values to make a normative claim that the function should or should not render its performer subject to the accountability mechanisms under the relevant rights-instrument.
Potential problems with the way this operates in practice include a fixation on the State, lack of clarity, and the reductive, binary nature of the distinction.
The second chapter outlines and discusses the approach taken by the courts to s3(b), focussing mainly on the High Court’s judgment in Ransfield v The Radio Network,5 and the analogous English experience under the HRA(UK). As there is relatively little New Zealand case law, how our approach to this issue will develop is something of a moot point. Nevertheless, there appear to be sufficient similarities with the troubled English experience to consider that difficulties may develop in future, although there are certainly some positive aspects to the current approach.
The final chapter considers alternative approaches to the direct application of NZBORA, and whether these are necessary or desirable. I conclude that the current approach can draw a useful threshold, and avoid the issues that have caused considerable angst under the HRA(UK), so long as the role that s5 of NZBORA can play is recognised. Under s5, rights may be limited so long as the limitations are reasonable, prescribed by law, and justified in a free and democratic society. This approach is able to relieve the burden from the jurisdictional public/private distinction, and make the reasoning clearer and easier, without imposing overly onerous burdens on private actors.
Chapter I. The public/private distinction – theory A. The liberal conception There is no single, monolithic public/private distinction. Rather, ‘the public/private distinction’ refers to a complex set of distinctions, drawn not only in areas of law, but in everyday life. They have in common, and are rooted in, the political philosophy of (classical) liberalism.6 This posits a private sphere, where individuals are free to pursue their own ends, clearly distinct from the public sphere where autonomy may be restricted for the liberty and welfare of the collective.7 As public/private distinctions have been drawn in varied areas, and are relevant to multiple areas of the law, they are context dependent.8 The fact that an entity or function may be considered ‘public’ in an application for judicial review will not be determinative of ‘publicness’ under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA).9 Nor should either of these be thought to tally directly with what we consider ‘public’ in everyday speech. This paper deals with the public/private distinction as drawn in relation to the direct application of NZBORA under s3(b), via the concept of “acts done in performance of a public function, power or duty”.
Peter Cane, “Public Law and Private Law: A Study of the Analysis and Use of a Legal Concept” in J Eekelar and J Bell (eds), Oxford Essays in Jurisprudence: Third Series (1987) 57-78; Michael Taggart, “The Province of Administrative Law Determined?” in Michael Taggart (ed), The Province of Administrative Law (1997) 4 Cane, “Public Law and Private Law” (1987) 57 As Peter Cane puts it; “functions are ‘public’ or ‘private’ only because we make them so for particular and varied purposes” “Church, State and Human Rights: Are Parish Councils Public Authorities?” (2004) 120 LQR 41, 45; Peter Cane, Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” in Nicholas Bamforth and Peter Leyland (eds) Public Law in a Multi-Layered Constitution, (2003) 254;
Stephanie Palmer, “Public Functions and Private Services: A Gap in Human Rights Protection” (2008) 6 IJCON 585, 599; Elizabeth Palmer, “Should Public Health be a Private Concern? Developing a Public Service Paradigm in English Law” (2002) 22(4) OJLS 663, 685 Ransfield v The Radio Network Ltd  1 NZLR 233, paras 64, 69 See also Royal Australasian College of Surgeons v Phipps  3 NZLR 1, 10-11 which held that in the context of review and the principles of natural justice, a function which might otherwise have been characterised as private and contractual could be considered ‘public’. Issue not discussed on appeal;
Phipps v Royal Australasian College of Surgeons  2 NZLR 513
1. Public/private, State/non-State, an institutional understanding
The public/private distinction appears to have emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a period marked by increasingly centralised and expansive State power on one hand, and Enlightenment-era philosophy prioritising the individual on the other. In this historical context, the general public/private boundary was easily conceptualised along institutional lines. The State comprised the public sphere, and non-State, individual citizens the private.10 This ‘institutional’ State/non-State understanding of the public/private distinction is one of the most common.11 In the rights-context, there appear to be two main reasons behind the institutional approach. Firstly, the State was seen as having a monopoly on governance,12 and removed from economic and social life, the unrestricted domain of private entities.13 There were thus differing normative perceptions of the relative social roles of the State on one hand, and private citizens on the other.14 Secondly, it was considered that the State was the only entity in society sufficiently capable of violating individuals’ rights.15 The public/private distinction in this context is effectively part of a normative theory of accountability.16 Finding an entity to be part of the State reflects the end result of normative reasoning that actions of the State should be subject to a rights-instrument, as opposed to the general law.17 Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 253 Law Commission of Canada, New Perspectives on the Public-Private Divide (2003) vii-viii.
Cane, Administrative Law, 4th ed, (2004) 5, 10 Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 253-254, 265 Catherine Donnelly, Delegation of Governmental Power to Private Parties: A Comparative Perspective (2007) 229; N Bamforth, “The Public Law-Private Law Distinction: A Comparative and Philosophical Approach” in P Leyland and T Woods (eds), Administrative Law Facing the Future, (1997), 136-159, 139-140, 143 Donnelly, Delegation of Governmental Power to Private Parties (2007) 229 Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 271 Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 271
B. The emergence of a functional public/private distinction
A clear-cut institutional approach to the public/private distinction is problematic.
Difficulties with liberal theory have become increasingly apparent with the State’s increased involvement in economic activities18 and the relatively recent phenomenon of ‘rolling back the State’.19 These have challenged the two normative assumptions underpinning the institutional approach. In particular, privatisation, public/private partnerships and ‘contracting out’ have seen private (non-State) actors exercising the exact powers previously wielded by the State.20 Private actors exercising what could be considered ‘governmental’ power21 challenges the idea of the State as a discrete governing entity, different in kind from citizens and commercial entities. The capacity of private actors to infringe rights has also become more evident, particularly so in extreme examples such as private prison management.22 On an institutional approach rights-protection is not based on the nature, or effects of the function, but the form that the State happens to take at a particular time.23 Cane observes that these issues did not simply emerge as a result of the late twentiethcentury reforms, although they exacerbated them. Liberal theory did not map perfectly to the nineteenth century either.24 Linked with the institutional approach is the geometric vocabulary which describes rights as applying horizontally between citizen-citizen, and vertically between citizenState. This metaphor assumes precisely what is in issue, the sharp delineation of Janet Mclean, “Public Function Tests: Bringing Back the State?”, in Dyzenhaus, Hunt and Huscroft (eds), A Simple Common Lawyer: Essays in Honour of Michael Taggart (2009) 194 Carol Harlow, “‘Public’ and ‘Private’ Law: Definition Without Distinction” (1980) 43 Modern Law Review 241, 256-258; Cane, “Church, State and Human Rights” (2003) 42-43; McLean, “Public Function Tests” (2009) 185-187, 200-201 Harlow, “‘Public’ and ‘Private’ Law” (1980) 256-258; this type of mixing has been described as ‘hybridisation’ by Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 269-271 Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 265; J Freeman, “The Private Role in Public Governance” (2000) 75 NYULR 543, 552-553 Murray Hunt, “Human Rights Review and the Public-Private Distinction” in Huscroft and Rishworth (eds) Litigating Rights: Perspectives from Domestic and International Law (2002) 73 Cane makes a similar point in “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 253-254, Cane, “Accountability and the Public/Private Distinction” (2003) 265 public and private spheres along institutional lines.25 The focus here is on the direct application of NZBORA via s3(b), however this might be characterised in geometric terms.26 In response to these difficulties, more flexible, ‘functional’ approaches to the distinction have emerged,27 seeking to identify functions which are sufficiently ‘public’, or ‘governmental’28 for rights protection to apply. This conceptually separates these functions from the actual functions that the State assumes responsibility for at any given time. However, reconceptualising the public sphere in this manner is difficult.
1. What is a public function?