Lawyer hits back at PM's attack

Last updated 15:57 09/08/2013

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A top lawyer has branded Prime Minister John Key's attack on the Law Society over its comments about new spying laws as "desperate."

Key appeared to question the society's impartiality after its strong criticism of the proposed Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) bill after Auckland barrister Rodney Harrison QC spoke out on the legislation on behalf of the society.

Key told a Newstalk ZB talkshow this morning that "the person that ran the case . . . one of the people involved" was "Zaoui's lawyer", a reference to Harrison who was lead counsel for Algerian refugee politician Ahmed Zaoui in 2002. Zaoui spent time in Auckland prisons after he was branded a national security threat when he applied for refugee status in New Zealand.

"There's lots of different agendas out there - I'm not going to second guess them," Key added.

Harrison today said Key's remarks were "a bit of a desperate jibe, really".

"I think he hoped to achieve a similar response from ill-informed listeners as he hoped to achieve by his reference to al Qaeda networks operating in New Zealand," he said.

"It's just trying to scare people into thinking there's a problem.

"And, personally, I do find it a bit offensive to be judged by reference to the clients I've had.

"That said, I am proud to have represented Ahmed Zaoui ... but the idea that I should be judged in some way for doing so is very bizarre."

The Law Society's submission to the Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee was the work of two committees of leading public lawyers, Harrison said.

These included Mai Chen, Austic Forbes, Matthew Palmer, Grant Illingworth and Philip Joseph.

"The submissions were the combined work of us all," Harrison said.

"I was simply chosen to present the submissions. It seems to me to be unfortunate that the prime minister is personalising the debate and choosing to suggest that I am acting as an individual with ulterior motives, rather than debate the issue."

Harrison said there was no interaction with Key as committee chairman during his presentation of the society's case.

"He had his chance to debate the issue with me then," he said.

"He has carefully avoided debating the substance of the issues with anyone as far as I am aware."

Harrison said there has been an absence of debate and information from the Government about the legislative change and "the really major surveillance society-type issues that everyone I speak to is concerned about."

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