Liberty Watch – April 2011
Round-up of civil liberty news for April 2011.
Petrobras Oil Survey
East Coast Maori plan to take a complaint to the United Nations for not being consulted over the New Zealand Government's decision to award a permit for oil and gas exploration.
Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is conducting a survey of 12,000 square kilometres of seabed off East Cape determine if oil or gas are likely to be under the ocean floor in commercial quantities.
The company has a permit to conduct the search in the Raukumara Basin and a legal obligation to continue under the terms of an agreement with the New Zealand Government.
A legal representative for Te Whanau a Apanui, Dayle Takitimu, says the iwi has decided to go to a number of United Nations committees.
Ms Takitimu says its concerns include breaches of human rights, racial discrimination in property rights for Maori land, and the rights of indigenous people.
The Air Force has confirmed it has sent an Orion aircraft to investigate the protest against an oil exploration project off the East Coast of the North Island. The Air Force says it is doing this on behalf of police and will do this as long as police need it.
Paralympics seek accord with Jetstar
The budget airline ran foul of the Paralympic team after it said it could only take two out of eight wheelchair bound team members on a flight booked in May.
Jetstar is the only airline operating in New Zealand to restrict the number of wheelchair bound travellers.
Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan said that the law in this respect is very clear, "Anyone who provides a good or service to the public in New Zealand has to do it in a way that takes account of the requirements of disabled people unless it would be unreasonable to do so, or unless there is a potential harm to the person."
Noonan said that they while every case has to be assessed on its own merits, the extra costs associated with catering for disabled passengers would not be enough for Jetstar to claim it is "unreasonable" for them to take them.
Jetstar stops disabled pair flying
Tanya Black and Dan Buckingham – presenters of TVNZ disability show Attitude – had been due to fly from Auckland to Wellington but were not allowed on to their aircraft after they were told they each needed to fly with their own caregiver.
Jetstar spokeswoman Andrea Wait said the airline's policy stipulated that, if a passenger needed help boarding, they were required to bring along another person as a carer. Passengers needing special assistance were required to notify the airline before flying.
The low-cost airline had fewer staff on board than other carriers, so could not necessarily assist those with disabilities, she said.
Dominion Post 13//4/11
New Zealand Copyright Law Violates Human Rights
Parliament has passed legislation dealing with online copyright infringement, which could ultimately result in people having their Internet connections cut. The Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Bill was passed under urgency. The new law comes with a presumption of guilt, meaning that anyone accused of copyright infringement is by default presumed guilty. On the other hand, owners of copyright need do nothing more than simply accuse alleged offenders, leaving the burden (and high legal costs) of proof of innocence to hundreds of thousands of individual Internet users in New Zealand. Furthermore, it turns an ISP into unpaid police who have to do what the movie and film industry tell them. If a studio says that someone is pirating, the ISPs have to believe them and send a warning notice to those customers telling them they may have infringed copyright.
After three strikes the copyright owner can take a claim to the Copyright Tribunal who can place a $15,000 penalty on the Internet account holder.
The Commerce Minister has threatened that if his law does not work in two years he will introduce a tougher regime
Three Strikes Law May Violate European Human Rights Law
Professor Dr Albin Eser, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Comparative Criminal Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Freiburg in Germany delivered a lecture titled “Human rights guarantees in criminal law and procedure from a European perspective” at the University of Auckland Law School. He said that he had been “quite amazed” to hear of New Zealand’s Three Strikes law and such legislation would probably pay insufficient heed to the individuality of each case, and might violate the principle of proportionality in European human rights law
Call for research into high rate of Maori imprisonment
The lobby group, Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says an independent centre should be set up to look at why the rate of Maori imprisonment is so high. Forty percent of Maori men over the age of 15 have been in prison or served a community-based sentence, and Maori are imprisoned at six times the rate of non-Maori. The group's director, Kim Workman, says research is needed into what he calls the disproportionate treatment of Maori within the criminal justice system.
New law to protect vulnerable children
Legislation to create a new offence for failing to protect a child or vulnerable adult has been introduced to Parliament. Justice Minister Simon Power said it had been fast-tracked and was signed off by Cabinet.
The Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) will make it an offence to not protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risk of death, grievous bodily harm or sexual assault. The maximum penalty would be 10 years imprisonment. A person can be found liable if they live in the same household as the victim, are closely connected to the household or is a staff member at a hospital, institution of residence where the victim lives. The bill will also double the penalty for cruelty to a child to 10 years and extend the legal duty for parents and caregivers to provide the necessaries of life. "It will no longer be an excuse to say you were not involved in the abuse,” Power said.
Family Court shake-up
A shake-up of the Family Court could end counselling and mediation services, introduce more user charges and restrict cases that can come before the court.
Justice Minister Simon Power announced a review of the system yesterday, a week after he said legal aid in the Family Court would become harder to obtain and more expensive.
But one family court lawyer says the review is "frightening", and others are predicting essential services may be chopped and vulnerable parties be left without court protection.
NZ Herald 24/4/11
Urewera 18 turn to Supreme Court in quest for jury trial
The 18 people arrested during the Urewera police raids have sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in an effort to have their case heard by a judge and jury.
In December, the High Court ruled that a judge alone should hear the case.
Despite opposition from lawyers for the 18 accused, who appealed to the Court of Appeal, the decision was upheld last month.
Suppression orders prevent publication of the reasons for both courts' decisions. The Crimes Act does allow trial by judge alone when cases are complex and expected to take a long time. The Urewera case is set down for 12 weeks.
NZ Herald 24/4/11
Changes to Jury service Rules
Legislation that will enhance the privacy, safety and security of jurors was introduced to Parliament. One of the proposed changes is to bar people from serving on a jury if they have, in the previous five years, been sentenced to home detention for three months or more. This puts them in the same category as those sentenced to a short term of imprisonment.
NZ Herald 24/4/11
SIS Changes Criticised
The Human Rights Commission has slammed the Government over proposed changes in the New Zealand Security Intelligence Amendment Bill – both the way the bill is being handled and the changes themselves.
The changes will specify in greater detail some of the electronic tracking and seizure practices already being undertaken by the SIS under general authorisations – including tracking mobile text messaging and internet traffic and accounts and IP addresses.
"We are, however, apprehensive about the bill's potential to dilute the accountability elements presently in the act and so undermine fundamental human rights and protections that are an inherent part of a democratic society."
New Zealand herald 7/4/11
The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) also released its submission on the bill, saying the SIS could be able to create an army of informants immune from prosecution.
"We are concerned that this bill sets up structures that will enable random surveillance without sufficient authorisation, at an extreme leading to a situation where there could be a wide network of informants throughout society," CTU president Helen Kelly said.
"While this may not be the intent, we should not set up structures that would allow such outcomes."
Ms Kelly said the CTU was also concerned the bill would have an impact on trade unionists and negatively affect free speech, political activity and privacy.
Otago Daily Times 6/4/11
Singer Tiki Taane says police arrested him for singing a popular protest song by an American rap group, which he often performs during his shows. He has been charged with disorderly behaviour likely to cause violence
Taane, was performing at a Tauranga club early Sunday when police arrived to carry out a standard inspection of the premises.
It's understood he began singing the NWA song "F**k the Police" while officers did their inspection.
NZ Herald 12/4/11
Tasers to be in every police car
Within months police can expect an easing of restrictions for using Tasers and greater access to them, including one in every frontline vehicle, under new Police Commissioner Peter Marshall.
He also supports more access to firearms, tougher penalties for those who assault police, and a jail term for every time a driver flees police.
But Commissioner Marshall, 57, who started a three-year term this week, is against the general arming of police, even though the Police Association supports it.
Tasers were only in 26 per cent of frontline vehicles, and officers had to gain permission via the communications centre to use them.
NZ Herald 24/4/11
Call for inquiry after prisoner forced to give birth in cell
A penal reform group has called for an inquiry after a woman had to give birth in her jail cell because Auckland women's prison staff had to follow safety procedures before opening the door.
Ms Aitken said guards had to follow set procedures for safety reasons and that included getting approval from senior staff to unlock the door and that two staff had to be present to open the door.
NZ Herald 24/4/11
Apple under fire for iPhone, iPad tracking
Privacy watchdogs are demanding answers from Apple about why iPhones and iPads are secretly collecting location data on users.
Much of the concern about the iPhone and iPad tracking stems from the fact the computers are logging users' physical co-ordinates without users knowing it, and that the information is then stored in an unencrypted form that would be easy for a hacker or a suspicious spouse or a law enforcement officer to find without a warrant. Privacy watchdogs note that location data opens a big window into very private details of a person's life, including the doctors they see, the friends they have and the places where they like to spend their time.
Otago Daily Times 22/4/11
'Hands tied' on synthetic cannabis
Lawmakers say their hands are tied in their attempts to ban powerful synthetic cannabis products. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he would like to have seen the substances prohibited but New Zealand's outdated drug laws prevented it.
The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, after researching and testing the products, recommended they be classified R18.
Mr Dunne said the committee had two options – to classify the products as a restricted substance or as a controlled substance.
"They said they were dangerous but in their conclusion they were less harmful than cannabis" Mr Dunne said.
"They weren't confident they had sufficient evidence to justify them being made a controlled substance."
Mr Dunne said he had no option but to accept the recommendation.
He said the current legislation was very old and written before the substances were available and hoped a Law Commission review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, due out in about a month, would add more teeth.
Taranaki Daily News 12/4/11