Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Haven’t we seen it all before? A person wants something, they are refused with reasons. They make another request, supposedly in the light of those reasons, and they get what they want even if the second request is flawed.

This must be a psychological thing on the part of the decider. It might be a simple planning issue - whether to give permission for a helicopter landing site, for example, or a deportation surrender matter that the Minister of Justice has to decide. It’s a sort of regression: a person who is criticised on one performance of a test, is expected - even assumed -  to do better on a further similar test, but instead they tend to regress to their average performance: see Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow.

A spectacular example of the latter, deportation, occurred in Kim v Minister of Justice [2019] NZCA 209. The Minister ordered deportation. The High Court on review said the Minister’s decision was flawed and referred the issue back. The Minister considered more evidence and ordered deportation again (cf, Kahneman’s repeated test), and the High Court on review said OK, you got it right this time (cf, Kahneman’s optimistic expectation of improvement), but on appeal the Court of Appeal said, no, High Court, although you were right with the first review, you got the second review wrong. (This is another regression: the High Court’s good performance of the first review was followed by a poorer performance of the second review.) The Court of Appeal ordered the Minister to reconsider the matter with particular reference to specific points (listed at [278]).

Wearing a decision-maker down with repeated applications, a practice learnt very early in life, is successful often enough for it to be an enduring behaviour. At least the Court of Appeal in Kim didn’t trouble the High Court by remitting it back, instead it left it with the Minister (a different person now) to say, “Oh, merde, not this again.”

Kim is particularly interesting for its observations on information about the criminal justice system in the People’s Republic of China, and for its recognition that a real risk that the person would be subject to an unfair trial is sufficient to refuse deportation (at [176]-[180] and [278(e)]).

[Update: On 20 September 2019 the Supreme Court granted leave to each party respectively to appeal, and to cross-appeal: Minister of Justice v Kim [2019] NZSC 100.]