“In whatever part of the world they may be, the first thing British colonists think of is to find a habitation for Justice.” – Frederick Whitaker, superintendent of the Auckland Province, upon the laying of the foundation stone for the present Auckland Supreme Courthouse in 1865.
There’s nothing like a prince to draw a crowd.
And to think I was just after a public sighting of the Prime Minister. After a tour of the New Zealand Parliament buildings, I thought it might be a fitting task to add to the NZ to-do list – you know, get a couple shots, hear him speak – but after browsing John Key’s website, I was shocked, perhaps overwhelmingly awe-struck, to see his next public engagement was playing host to none other than Prince William on his visit to Wellington the following week. Excuse me? I asked in joy and disbelief. The Prince William…here…in New Zealand? It was as if I’d gone on a blind date only to find the person I’d been set up with for the evening was actually my long lost high-school sweetheart, looking better than ever. Brilliant!
Obviously, I was ecstatic. But the news sources were all frustratingly vague when it came to the specifics. The chief event highlighting the visit was to be the opening of the new Supreme Court building, and Prince William was here, on behalf of the Queen of England herself, to mark the occasion. I couldn’t help but note more than a twinge of irony in the situation. The New Zealand Supreme Court was officially established in 2004 as an alternative to the Privy Council in London, to which high appeals had been directed prior to the switch. Thus a British Royal’s attendance at the opening of the new building – itself representing a further step away from the monarchy – held a contradiction I didn’t fail to notice. But clearly, before any sort of deeper analytical discussion took place, there were more important matters at hand, such as when and where I would be able to stalk William, so I needed details, people! Finally, the night before, an online news article divulged the highly-coveted itinerary:
11am: Welcome by Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, Prime Minister John Key and his wife, Bronagh, in Auckland.
3pm: Eden Park to view developments for Rugby World Cup 2011.
4.30pm: Viaduct Harbour and sail on NZL40.
7.15pm: Hangi at Government House.
9.50am: Wreathlaying at National War Memorial, Buckle St, Wellington.
10.30: Opens Supreme Court building, followed by walkabout in Whitmore St.
7.30pm: Premier House barbecue with Mr and Mrs Key.
9am: Visit Wellington Children’s Hospital.
10.20am: Departs from Wellington’s Military Terminal.
With a noon start at the restaurant on Monday, I had my window of opportunity: the Whitmore walkabout. Whilst I contemplated what items to bring with me – a rose, perhaps, to throw at his feet? – I settled on the more traditional camera and notebook…and maybe some lip gloss. It was the Prince, after all. I wouldn’t dare not look my best. There was an extra bit of pep in my step as I weaved through the crowds of Willis Street and down the long curve of Lambton Quay. The sidewalks were pulsing that morning, whether or not because of the royal visit, but I could tell I was getting close when around the bend, I could see the movement stopped. What awaited me was that mass of bodies that happens only when a crowd is gathering, when something’s a-brewing in a capital city. A man walking next to me talked into his cell phone, “Yeah, I’m just on my way now…Yeah, I can see them just ahead.” I sped up just a bit, as if by beating at least one person there, I would have that much better of a chance at getting a spot towards the front.
The Prince has supposedly been remembered for once saying, “I hope I’m not a tourist attraction – I’m sure that they come here really because St. Andrews is just amazing, a beautiful place.” And that morning, Prince William was so not a tourist attraction. It makes perfect sense that well over a thousand New Zealanders would take the morning off work, press together in crowds often eight bodies deep, paint cardboard signs proclaiming, “We love you, W I L L I A M,” all to commemorate the opening of a building decidedly not a “beautiful place,” in my humble architectural position…with or without the promised appearance of such a dashing foreign royal.
Yeah, definitely not.
But, hey, who am I to talk? I was right there with them, just as excited as the giddy preteens clutching their cardboard and the white-haired old women telling protestors to have some respect and leave him alone. And the protestors…they were out in true form, as is to be expected on such an occasion. I found no coincidence in the fact that only a day before, I had just written on the debate of monarchy versus republic in the country, on the current relationship between New Zealand and England and what shape their connection might take in the future. And here I was, approximately twenty-four hours later, with a republican in my ear shouting “Bye bye Wills, bye bye pomp, it’s time for a constitution in the republic of New Zealand,” a bullhorn in one hand, a stick in the other, on which the quasi-national silver fern flag had been tied next to the actual official New Zealand flag – Union Jack rubbed out, of course.
The republicans were by far the most agitated group in the crowd, several holding a long banner proclaiming, “It’s time for a republic.” Clearly William was merely a symbol of all they loathed about the current system of government, and unfortunately he bore the brunt of their blows. “William is a puppet,” they yelled, “Tell Granny and Dad Dad that, Wills.” A young guy helping to hold a banner – who knows how he got roped into the protest – turns to one of the older protesters with a bullhorn and says, “Tell them ‘a cup of tea and a scone ain’t gonna help the situation. A cup of tea and a scone’s not gonna help things.’”
Another sign they raised, parodying the well-known Tui beer ads, read, “New Zealand has transparent and fair courts…Yeah right.” They went on about the new Supreme Court building itself, on how the $80 million spent on it could’ve fed them instead. “How many of you know what it’s like to be hungry? To starve?” a guy yells out, wearing an oversized white t-shirt with the bones of a metallic gold skeleton sewn on it. “How many of you knows what eighty million dollars looks like? New Zealand needs hot dinners, not this steel cradle of injustice.” Someone’s phone rings and a protester answers. “Yes, it’s all happening now. We’re telling him to go home.” And William’s going to listen? I wanted to ask.
A skinny guy, maybe about mid-twenties, walked over and said meekly to the republicans, “Show some respect. It’s not his fault.” I couldn’t believe he’d try to hold a dialogue with them – it was like trying to converse with a three-year old as they pitched a tantrum – and I accordingly watched the anger rise in one of the protesters. “Go bury your head in the sand like the rest of New Zealand. You’re a damned fool. I’m not talking to you anymore.” His protesting, bullhorn-waving friends looked over, “Don’t waste your time with him, he’s a fool, Nick.”
Another woman, at least in her late sixties, looked to skeleton-man and asked, “I want to know what difference a republic will make.” But like the politicians that were the very target of his spitting outrage, he couldn’t answer her. “How do you think a republic will change things?” she asked again, in a quiet yet pressing tone of voice. I could’ve hugged her. Finally, he responded. “Well, I think we need a tribal democracy. I think the Maoris need more representation and we need a special type of government that’s both tribal-based and democratic.” He walked off, obviously having failed to fully address the question. “I feel sorry for the man,” the woman said, now talking about the prince, “What a sorry place to come to.”
It was almost as amusing listening to the crowd discuss the chanting as it was listening to the protesters themselves. “Are they even legally allowed to use bullhorns?” a woman asked, “Can’t we tell them to be quiet?” “Just shove that thing down his throat,” said a more violently-inclined sort of man. Finally, a policeman, catching wind of the growing complaints, yelled out to the republicans, “I think a lot of people are finding the bullhorn offensive to their ears. Do you mind not using it so close to everyone?” “Well, they haven’t complained to me,” said one protestor, barely getting the words out before the crowd let out whoops and cheers and a lively applause. Take the hint, buddy.
But what I most wanted to do was turn to them and say that this sort of controversy is not going to disappear with a change in status to a republic. $80 million dollar buildings will still be built. People will still go hungry. The level of accountability and transparency will still be questioned. But, then again, on the other side, the grass is always greener and the politicians always cleaner.
Just before tensions had a chance to grow any stronger, I could tell the prince wasn’t far off. I was on a street corner, itself a buzzing little hive of activity. The protesters were there, of course, but so were the police, whispering into radios, and, not far off, the press. I watched with envy as suited-up women and their notebooks, men with their cameras and tripods, flew up to the barricades, flashed a press badge, and barreled past towards the impromptu press box set up on the stairs of the new building. I overheard one man explaining to the police that he’d forgotten his badge and soon he, too, was through. I contemplated trying the same approach, though figured my Converse All-Stars and jeans might not be the best support to my claim.
Police cars, lights flashing silently, began to pull in front of the building, followed by several sleek and silver BMW 730 LDs (don’t be impressed, I had to crane my neck to note the make and model). Although I half expected Bond to step out of one of them, the first passengers to alight were the Prime Minister and the Governor-General. And then – waving from the backseat like they always do in the movies – the Prince. As embarrassing as it might sound to say, my heart actually did a little flip, butterflies in my stomach fluttering their wings if only for a second. There he was! Not in the photographs of People magazine, not on the TV, not the center of a news story on yet another royal misstep involving helicopters or pregnancy scares, but there, ten feet from me, as I stood on the very tip of my toes to get the very best view possible.
A view, of course, which I had horribly failed to set myself up for. As exciting as that first glimpse had been – even if only to see that he’s actually balding and walks with stooped shoulders – I couldn’t have picked a worse spot. The view through the backseat window of a BMW was but a fleeting glimpse and the car soon pulled up, as you might expect, directly in front of the stairs leading to the Supreme Court building. It was there – not in the throws of a republican protest – that I should’ve positioned myself, as William stepped out of the car and towards the crowd. There, three Maori women met him, draping the prince in a traditional flax-weave Maori cloak to wear before watching a haka and entering the building. Again, I could hear the unnerving yells of the haka but the dance itself was out of sight on the other side of the crowd.
As soon as the prince disappeared, the crowd stopped holding its breath and the press snapped into action. Laptops were set up on the steps of the building and reporters began filtering into the crowd for their on-street interviews. It was here that I myself took on the role of stealthy Journalist-in-Disguise, similar in nature to my “Of course my notes are for personal use only, officer,” response to the Parliament security guard. It would’ve been a little hard to convince a random passerby that I was indeed a member of the press and to thus open up to me and give a memorable quote or two, but I found that by positioning myself within earshot of such an interview, behind the back of either the interviewer or interviewee, I was thus privy to the conversation as if I myself were helping it along. I overheard one English woman, holding her three-year old son – that tells you how many details I was able to pick up – remark, “Either way, they [the British monarchy?] are going to be an important part. If it was the Queen, it would be more relevant. But here he is, acting for the Queen for the first time ever, so you feel even more removed.”
I then walked away from the republican faction and stumbled upon a bloc of quite another personality. It may have only included three men, but what the republicans had in numbers, Alf’s Imperial Army made up for in character. Wearing their brass-buttoned red coats, two in British pith hats and one in a colonial bicorn, they unsurprisingly caught everyone’s attention with their lively rendition of “God Save the Queen,” Union Jack and a sign reading “Republicans Smell” waving in their air. “Three cheers for the monarchy!” they yelled, raising their hats in the air with each cheer. “Hip, hip, huzzah! Long live the Queen!” It was like stepping back in time, or at least into a world so entirely different from my own.
Once again, I let a representative from Radio New Zealand do the dirty work. Turning my back discretely to hide my notebook, I freeloaded off the rep’s conversation with Anthony “The Duke” Catford, as he extolled the Queen, the Prince, and all things monarchical. “We want New Zealand just how the wizard wants it, we believe in more colorful monarchies and less kill-joys,” referring to the various groups of protesters gathered that day, republicans included.
“And what do you think of the killjoys?” the reporter asked, in between verses of another song that took jabs at the republicans.
“They’re a bit dull,” the Duke replied. “We’re fun-loving monarchists. Better a head of state who’s far away. These people are protesting things that aren’t relevant. It’s bourgeois resentment, if you ask me. I think it’s more about taste myself.” Spoken like a true English gentleman.
“And did you get to see the Prince?”
“I didn’t see him, but I’m here to support him. Royal visits should happen more often. I heard one young girl this morning say, ‘I’m off to see Prince Charming.’ This is all part of growing up and being a good monarchist.”
Another journalist from Radio Live approached the group and asked an onlooker, “Are you a part of them?” “Oh no, I was just interested in their costumes.” “Oh,” she said, turning away from him with that look of disgust on her face as if she’d just found out a potential love interest was taken or – worse yet – married.
As much as I wanted to keep listening, I didn’t want to overstay my lack of a welcome and so moved on to wait for the Prince to reemerge from the building. While I heard one policeman say the ceremony inside would take an hour – meaning I’d be at work by the time William took his walkabout along Whitmore Street – I held out hope it’d finish early and so I made sure to secure myself a better spot for the next time around. As I approached the barricades, I walked straight into an argument.
“If you wanna stay here, Pam…”
“Oh, I am.”
“Well, good on ya, love.”
“Don’t call me love…”
While the lines could have been straight from a soap opera dialogue or a feud between husband and wife, the duel I discovered apparently had to do with two different groups of protesters protesting…well, the same thing. Workers from the Ministry of Justice and PSA – Public Service Association – had decided the opening of the Supreme Court building was a fitting time to demand fair pay, more in line with the incomes of other public workers. It seemed Pam had taken the initiative to organize her own group, whilst a more formally-sanctioned protest was taking place around the corner. I, however unrelated to their cause, was determined for a better spot this time, whether or not it meant even more bullhorns in my ear, this time to the tune of, “What do we want? Fair pay. When do we want it? NOW!” But it seemed all schedules were being adhered to and I soon had to put my book away and head to work, with or without a second royal sighting.
Thus with the words of a thousand conversations and protests stirring in my head, later that week I headed to the library yet again to learn more about the institution that lay at the center of all these controversies in the first place: the New Zealand Supreme Court. What I hadn’t realized, though, was that considering its relative infant status, there actually weren’t any books written on the subject as of yet. Not too often that happens, now is it? But what I did find, tucked between such behemoths as the 2008 edition of Brookers Contract and Commercial Law Handbook and New Zealand Court of Appeal, 1958-1996: A History, was a slender, 80-page booklet containing the “Report of the Advisory Group: Replacing the Privy Council, A New Supreme Court,” a report to Hon. Margaret Wilson, Attorney-General and Associate Minister of Justice, written in April of 2002.
In the foreword, Hon. Wilson writes, “In particular, I note the Advisory Group’s conclusion that if recommendations of the type made in this report are implemented, the Advisory Group believes that replacing the Privy Council with the Supreme Court should:
– Improve accessibility to New Zealand’s highest court;
– Increase the range of matters considered by New Zealand’s highest court;
– Improve understanding of local conditions by judges on New Zealand’s highest court.”
Prior to the establishment of the Supreme Court, the highest court of appeals in the country was actually the London-based Privy Council, which normally dealt with fewer than ten cases from New Zealand a year. In fact, from 1851 to 2002, the Council dealt with only 268 cases originating from the antipodes – that’s more or less 1.77483 cases per year. This was understandably an issue for those leading the inquiries of the report. As line 27.4 recorded, the new court should be “able to hear a larger number of appeals than those currently heard in the Privy Council,” preferably thirty to fifty.
Another issue was continuing to differentiate New Zealand as a nation independent from England. As the report presented in line 10.2.1, under “Judicial Skills,” the court, as a whole, “should better reflect the diversity of New Zealand society than the Privy Council.” In a similar manner, line 16.3 addresses the “Location of the Supreme Court” and suggests that “the layout should reflect that it is a New Zealand court.”
The advisory group also considered several options for which title to give New Zealand’s highest court: 35.1, The Court of Final Appeal, or 35.2, The Supreme Court of New Zealand. As section 37 records, “The title, ‘Supreme Court,’ is used by the United States of America and Canada for their highest courts. It was agreed by the Advisory Group that use of the title would aid international recognition of the status of the court.”
All in all, the recommendations of the advisory group were indeed taken and on the first of January of 2004, the Supreme Court of New Zealand was officially open for business, so to speak. The Supreme Court Act of 2003, formally passed by Parliament on October 14, 2003, replaced the Privy Council in London with an “in-house” court to deal with the highest of appeals, founded “to recognize New Zealand as an independent nation with its own history and traditions, and improve access to justice and enable important legal matters, including those relating to the Treaty of Waitangi, to be resolved with an understanding of New Zealand conditions, history, and traditions.” And so far, the five judges who sit on the court, including the Chief Justice, have been able to deal not only with more cases, but also to do so at an increased rate than before.
But then again, it’s been barely six years since the Supreme Court came into being in New Zealand. Its American counterpart, on the other hand, is now into its third century of existence. Since Marbury v. Madison of 1803, which established the idea of judicial review – giving the high court the trump card over other branches of government and the ability to declare something “unconstitutional” – the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled on such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, and Roe v. Wade. In 2008 alone, the court’s docket held more than 10,000 petitions for writ of certiorari – requests to be reviewed – and it issued 83 full opinions. The numbers can be astounding, let alone the vast significance of the decisions they’re dealing with. Time will tell what the New Zealand Supreme Court has a chance to rule on.
A good friend who practices law in New Zealand – ever my source for humor and details when it comes to getting to know this country – has this to say about the Kiwis’ Supreme Court:
“My personal view on the Supreme Court is that NZ is not big enough. Our judges are not up to a high enough standard. I appreciate that the Privy Council is a long way away, but I liked their decisions. Our Court of Appeal are quite reckless. Not so out there as Canada, but not so reasoned either. And basically half the laws in NZ exist because of old ladies. The Court of Appeal see an old lady in distress, and overturn 200 years of settled law just to make sure she wins… cos she’s an elderly widow. THANKFULLY we have always had the Privy Council there to say “don’t be daft” and undo the COA’s stupid decision. There have been some shockers come from the COA. And the Supreme Court is simply made up of the Court of Appeal judges of old…
Anyway, for my part I can’t for the life of me see why you’d write about our system when yours is so much more fun. I mean… we only have 1 house, no congress, no senate, no central vs federal and no constitution. The judges do what parliament says, and majority in parliament is our government. BORING. Little light on the ‘checks and balances’ but still very boring.”
I suppose he has a point, but what fascinated me most about the entire day of the royal visit – the prince, the protestors, the posters – was that it was something that would have had absolutely no chance of taking place in my homeland. Here was a unique opportunity to view New Zealand in the full glory of its growing pains, clearly still connected to Mother England yet squirming and wriggling as it figures out how to relate to yet relegate her.
The next day at work, I walked up to a table of three women, most likely in their mid-sixties. One held out her flip-style cell phone while the other two ooh’ed and aah’ed. It was the sort of reaction I’d seen before, so when the phone was turned in my direction I fully expected to see a picture of a baby or perhaps a child. What I saw instead was the face of Prince William. I busted out in laughter. “Did you see him yesterday? I asked.
“Did I see him? I shook his hand twice!” she exclaimed. I found her enthusiasm the kind you might see featured on some hypothetical reality TV show titled Touched by a Royal.
“I bet you didn’t wash it all day, did you?” You would’ve thought we were sixteen and giggling in hushed whispers about the high school heartthrob.
Later that evening, another woman and her husband came to dine. I’d served her before, although her previous dining companions had been two of her colleagues. She was running late, and they had complained that though they were nearing ever closer to starvation and frustration, they wouldn’t be able to say anything to her when she arrived. “She’s a high court judge, you see.” Oh, of course. So when I saw her again, this time the day after the prince’s appearance, I decided to toe the line of privacy and respect and ask, “You’re a high court judge, I believe?” And before she could even nod her head and question a) how I knew and b) why it concerned me, I went on. “Were you inside the Supreme Court building for the ceremony yesterday?” Her face lit up, changing expressions immediately.
Phew…saved by the prince, yet again! “Why, yes I was. He gave a wonderful speech. He’s very smart, he takes after his mother.” I began to tell her about the woman I’d spoken with earlier, who’d shaken his hand twice. “Oh, well, he’s very charming,” she assured me, lowly citizen that I was, not fortunate enough to be privy to such information myself.
And so I thought, there in lies what we should take away from William’s visit. To the Ministry of Justice protestors, your cause was not a relevant one on that particular day. To the republican protestors, the prince’s visit was neither the time nor place to air your grievances. As many said that day, perhaps if the Queen herself had come, it would have been different; it would have been more of an appropriate venue given her status as the technical head of state of New Zealand. But it’s hard to imagine William wielding much control over the decisions of England. He may be second in line to the throne, but there’s a heck of a lot of ground to be covered between those two steps.
Instead, maybe we should look to the cardboard-waving preteens and fun-loving monarchists, whose simple excitement over such a rare visit is something we can all relate to. Perhaps Prince William’s visit to New Zealand was merely an excellent opportunity for Kiwis from Wellington and beyond to acknowledge their inescapable connection to England, to appreciate the heritage that such a connection lends to their young country, to celebrate further steps towards independence represented by the new Supreme Court building, and to reflect on where they see their country heading in the future.
And, if you’re lucky, you, too, could be touched by a royal…