Round-up of civil liberty news for February 2013.
Help for wrongly convicted
A leading forensic scientist is launching a charity for people who have been wrongly convicted. Dr Anna Sandiford, an expert defence adviser at the 2009 acquittal of David Bain, has held initial talks with supporters from backgrounds such as lawyers, legal academics and professional investigators. She plans to launch the organisation this year fearing outdated legal processes and cuts in legal aid funding are leading to a rising number of wrongful imprisonments.
Sandiford said an inadequate police investigation; substandard forensic science and a poorly prepared defence were the main causes of wrongful imprisonment, adding that legal aid cutbacks mean Crown prosecutors have far better funding than most defendants. She also said that she believed the cuts also mean some overseas expert witnesses are reluctant to offer their services.
New Zealand Herald 3/2/13
Implications Of Criminal Procedure Legislation Bill
Proposed changes in the Criminal Procedure Legislation Bill will substantially change New Zealand’s criminal procedure, if the legislation is not amended, the New Zealand Law Society says.
The Bill is described as non-controversial and necessary to enable the new criminal procedure regime to operate effectively when the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 comes into force on 1 July 2013. However, the Law Society believes that some of the Bill’s provisions raise concerns that warrant further consideration, Law Society Law Reform Committee member Graeme Edgeler told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.
Mr. Edgeler said, “The amendment that would allow references to the word ‘crime’ in other enactments to be amended by the Executive will give the government the power to expand some criminal offences by regulation,” adding that, “the expansion of criminal offences should be made by Parliament. The Law Society believes it is inappropriate to allow the Executive the power to amend serious criminal offences in this way.”
This amendment could allow innocuous or not-very-serious behaviour when it is committed with intent to commit a fine-only offence, to be punished by imprisonment, the Law Society’s submission on the Bill states.
Prisoners Compensation Bill Legally and Morally Flawed
Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee that the Prisoners Compensation Bill is seriously flawed from a human rights perspective, in that it breaches the Victim Rights Act 2002, which required under Section 7 that all victims be treated with courtesy, compassion and dignity. It was argued that this legislation denies victims’ rights to prisoners that have been abused and violated by members of the state, and works on the pre-assumption that victims of State abuse are not entitled to be treated as victims on the grounds that they happen to be prisoners.
Rushed Marriage Bill Angers Submitters
Family First NZ says that the chair of the Select Committee considering the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill has today disclosed in Parliament that there have been 21,533 submissions of which almost 3,000 are unique submissions, yet the committee has heard a little over 200 of them as they attempt to speed the bill through.
Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ said, “This is a blatant breach of the democratic right of NZ’ers to participate, and shows the arrogance of the politicians desperate to get the bill passed.”
A number of significant organisations have been excluded from the opportunity to make an oral submission.
Equal Pay getting Further Away
On 21 February the Business and Professional Women of NZ commemorated Equal Pay Day to mark the number of days extra each year that women have to work to earn the same as men. The day this year was three days later than it was last year because the gender pay gap has grown again according to the StatisticsNZ Quarterly Employment Survey. It showed the average hourly wage for men is $29.09, while women earn $25.25 per hour – a gap of almost 12%.
Power to search increased at Mission Estate concert
Concertgoers driving into the Mission for the Barry Gibb/Carole King concert found a higher degree of search powers by police as police and security enforced a temporary, but total, liquor ban.
Between the prohibition period of 11am and midnight on February 23 police, under a section of the Local Government Act, had the powers to carry out searches, without a warrant, of vehicles and items people were taking into the Mission grounds. They also had the power to arrest anyone breaching the prohibition and who did not comply with requests to remove the vehicle or container.
The immediate area of the Mission Estate was also under a liquor ban over the same period.
Hawke's Bay Today 12/2/13
Police want more access to Tasers
Frontline police officers are calling for senior staff to let them to wear Tasers on their belts while they walk their beats. The request comes after Canterbury officers were temporarily allowed to have the stun guns at their side while their patrol cars' cabin safes were being upgraded. The New Zealand Police Association said that should be practice all the time across the country.
Nationwide, while the cars’ safes were upgraded, the weapons have been stored in a locked safe in the boot of their cars. In Canterbury however, area commander Superintendent Gary Knowles authorised officers temporarily to carry Tasers as sidearms. They'll be back to normal procedure of being locked in the safes by next month once the upgrades are completed and police have no plans to change their current policy.
Police association vice-president Luke Shadbolt said he wanted it made a fulltime move across the country. He said carrying Tasers could give officers options to deal with escalating situations. Police policy allows for Tasers to be carried on the belt "in certain situations for specific periods" and if operational requirements demand it.
Otago Daily Times 19/2/13
Police conduct authority to report more often
The Independent Police Conduct Authority has announced it will make more of its findings public. Sir David Carruthers, who took over as chairman of the authority last July, told the law and order select committee that he had recently received a legal opinion from a senior lawyer that would allow more of the findings to be made public.
In 2011-2012 the authority investigated 87 of about 2000 complaints it received. Only 14 of those reports were made public.
‘‘I have taken the view from the start that we should report more publicly so people can see what we do,’’ Sir David said. ‘‘In future it’s likely we will be reporting on all our investigations unless there’s an overwhelming private interest.
Dominion Post 20/2/13
Lack of Government Research into Racial Bias in Criminal Justice System
A Shadow Report by the Robson Hanan Trust to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has criticised the lack of New Zealand research into whether the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system could be due to racial bias.
Director of the Robson Hanan Trust, and the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Project, Kim Workman, said, “In the last five years, government agencies have researched the adverse early-life social and environmental factors which result in Māori over-representation, and developed culturally appropriate programmes and services for Māori. What they have avoided, is doing anything about the evidence which shows clearly that personal racism and structural discrimination within the criminal justice system exists, and needs to be reduced.”
The Robson Trust has recommended to CERD that it ask the New Zealand government to direct the Justice Sector Leadership Board to research the extent to which the over-representation of Māori in the criminal justice system is due to racial bias in arrests, prosecutions and sentences and structural discrimination, and develop a strategy to address the issue.
Law change targets welfare fraudsters' partners
Partners of welfare cheats will be liable for prosecution and could face a year in jail or a $5000 fine under a law change. A new offence will be created to target partners or spouses of beneficiaries convicted of fraud. The Ministry of Social Development would be given more powers to seize partners' assets to recover costs.
In addition to the law change, the ministry would introduce tougher rules for beneficiaries who had been dishonest in the past. These "low-trust" beneficiaries would have more restricted access to self-service transactions and would face more rigorous verification of their personal information. The new policy would affect around 1000 beneficiaries.
The ministry would also formalise information-sharing with related agencies such as ACC, Inland Revenue, Housing New Zealand and the police.
Otago Daily Times 20/2/13
Social Security Bill Work Focus Will Make Life Harder for Mums
A number of groups have highlighted the additional disadvantages women will face under the government’s Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill, says Barbara Smith of the Home Education Foundation (HEF). Under the work focus provisions of the Bill, mothers will need to work 15 hours per week once their youngest turns 5 and 30 hours per week once their youngest turns 14.
“This makes it clear that her plan to cut welfare spending relies on getting single mothers away from their children and into the workforce,” says Mrs. Smith. “While many women are happy to work to support their families, it’s disgraceful that women with very young children and women who choose the full-time job of educating their children at home right through secondary school will be forced into the workplace under this bill….I have heard from hundreds of women who are concerned that their way of life will be threatened by this bill.”
“Guilty of being a beneficiary”
Kay Brereton Co-convenor of the National Beneficiary Advocacy Federation of NZ is concerned that “ government plans for changing the rules for investigating benefit fraud constitutes an abuse of human rights, which removes the privacy rights of a class of citizens.”
Brereton expressed her concern at the removal of the requirement for investigators to first seek information from the parties under investigation. She said, “All citizens of New Zealand believe they have the right to be treated as innocent until they are proven to be guilty. This will no longer be the case for superannuitants, students, and anyone else who has received assistance from Work and Income, and finds themselves the subject of an investigation by the Benefit Fraud Investigation Unit. Everyone under investigation will be treated as guilty and likely to delay or impede an investigation.”
“At present the Social Security Act requires the Ministry to first seek information from the beneficiary before seeking it from a third party, it is the effect of this policy change to ignore the legislation. This intended change to policy means that the Fraud Investigator will first go to; current and former landlords, employers, children’s schools and day-care, banks and others, advising them that the person is a beneficiary under investigation for fraud.”
Brereton further noted, “In many cases an explanation from the accused party will resolve the investigation meaning little or no further resources are needed. Of the 16,266 allegations in 2010 only 2,424 resulted in a debt (14.9%) and of these only 690 were found to have warranted prosecution (4.24%).
“I am not satisfied that this change will not breach the privacy of individuals by disclosing to third parties that the individual is a beneficiary accused of fraud, this may have serious implications in relation to employment, housing and treatment by members of their community.”