Liberty Watch – April 2013

Round-up of civil liberty news from April 2013.



Amnesty International criticises New Zealand Government’s over refugees

Amnesty International has expressed its disappointment with the New Zealand Government’s decision to push forward with a Bill to introduce detention under a mass warrant for asylum seekers.

The Immigration Amendment Bill passed its second reading, and moves New Zealand one step closer to “breaching its international obligations and failing to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees…any legislation that aims to deter asylum seekers from their legal right to claim asylum through punitive measures is also contrary to the Refugee Convention,” said Grant Bayldon, Executive Director of Amnesty International. 17/4/13


Constitutional Review

Research reveals lack of awareness of the Constitutional Review

Research just released by Research New Zealand, shows only 33% of New Zealanders are aware of the current Constitutional Review.

This lack of awareness has been criticised by Conservative Party Leader Colin Craig, who said, “Changing our constitution is a major proposition, and this process is proving to be one that is not inclusive of New Zealanders, nor is it one which New Zealanders asked the government to undertake…Our constitutional framework is the property of the people of New Zealand. Unless they explicitly endorse a change, it should be left well alone.” 10/4/13


Criminal Justice

Explanation called for on prosecution rates

Justice reform group JustSpeak has released data that show that the likelihood of a prosecution for a Maori person aged 10 to 16 was higher in every category of crime except one compared to a Caucasian.

The figures, compiled from New Zealand Police records, showed that 46 per cent of Maori youth apprehended for sexual assault were prosecuted, while 34 per cent of Pakeha faced prosecution. The only category in which Caucasians were more likely to be prosecuted was "miscellaneous offences".

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia challenged Police Minister Anne Tolley in the House to explain the discrepancy between Maori and Pakeha prosecutions yesterday, saying that disproportionate treatment of Maori in the justice system had first been identified 30 years ago, and questioned whether this bias was being addressed.

Mrs. Tolley rejected accusations of institutional racism.  She said the data did not take into account many factors such as whether repeat offenders committed the crimes or whether evidence was available to help with a prosecution.

JustSpeak spokeswoman Lydia Nobbs noted that the data had some limitations, but she emphasised that it showed an overall trend that the Government should consider.

Tongan community leader Will 'Ilolahia, a co-founder of 1970s movement the Polynesian Panthers, says tactics used then may well be something to consider today to address the discrepancies in prosecution rates between Pakeha and Maori and Pacific peoples.

Then a body known as the Police Investigation Group followed police officers on patrols and offered legal aid and advice to Maori and Pacific Island people they felt were being wrongly apprehended.

New Zealand Herald 11/4/13 & 13/4/13


Criticism of 14-year strike 2 warning

The controversial "three strikes" legislation has seen a young man jailed without parole and warned that if he steals another skateboard, hat or cellphone he will spend 14 years behind bars.

In issuing the offender his second strike, Judge Tony Adeane told the man his two "street muggings" that netted "trophies of minimal value" meant his outlook was now "bleak in the extreme".

"When you next steal a hat or a cellphone or a jacket or a skateboard you will be sent to the High Court and there you will be sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment without parole," Judge Adeane said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the case showed the law was working. Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar agreed, saying the sentence of two-and-a-half years' jail with no parole was "fantastic".

Victoria University criminology professor John Pratt said the case "highlighted fundamental problems" with the law, and asked, "Was this really the type of offender that the three strikes law was meant to protect us from?"

Professor Warren Brookbanks of Auckland University's Faculty of Law said the case made a mockery of its promoters' claim that it would target only "the worst of the worst."

Rethinking Crime and Punishment spokesman Kim Workman said the public needed to think about the cost of locking someone up for 14 years for robbing a boy of a cap and a cellphone.  Workman also argued that while some will say he will not reoffend if he knows he's on his third strike, no one knew what he was likely to do given that about 40 per cent of young offenders had neuro-disability disorders such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, for which they were not tested.

Sentencing policy expert Wayne Goodall also said the case highlighted the injustice of the law and "we will inevitably see instances of individuals serving lengthy sentences out of all proportion to the actual behaviour".

By the end of March 2013 there were 2684 offenders on their first strike and 17 on their second strike.

The Dominion Post 28/4/13



Man loses job after wrong drug test result

A Blenheim man says he wants answers after "impossible" drug test results caused him to lose his job.

The pre-employment drug test came back positive for opiates, cannabinoids and methadone, despite him maintaining that he had never having taken any of the substances, leading to the man having his employment contract terminated.

When a second supervised test at Wairau Hospital two days later came back clean, the man was told by medical professionals that, given the high levels of cannabinoids detected in the first sample, it would be "practically impossible" for that level of cannabinoids to have left his system in two days.

The man was reinstated in his job but is asking for compensation off Medlab for lost wages from the 4 days' work he missed.

New Zealand Herald 8/4/13


Freedom To Protest

Government proposal to ban marine protestors

The Government is proposing to ban protestors from within 500 metres of mining structures and ships in New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.  Potential repercussions include up to $100,000 in fines, or 12 months imprisonment.

Lawyer and social policy expert Michael Bott said, "In many ways it's lamentably sad. New Zealanders have a right to protest and a freedom to protest and express themselves enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act."

New Zealand Herald 1/4/13


Marriage Equality

Parliament votes to make same-sex marriage legal

Parliament has voted to make same-sex marriage legal by 77 votes to 44 making New Zealand the thirteenth country legalise gay marriage.

Gay and transgender couples will be able to marry from August 19.  The terms bride and groom will remain but people will be able to opt to use partner instead.

The legalisation of gay marriage in New Zealand does not eliminate every shred of legal inequalities for gay couples, with a grey area still remaining around adoption.

Same-sex married couples could also run into problems when seeking visas in other countries legal experts warned. 18/4/13 & New Zealand Herald 20/4/13



Police conduct watchdog yet to interview officers linked to Urewera raids

Police involved in the Urewera raids have still not fully co-operated with the agency investigating their actions five years after the controversial operation.

Recent briefings from the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) to Justice Minister Judith Collins said investigators still wanted to interview officers involved in the raids.  However, the difficulties in securing an interview will not stop the release of the IPCA's report into the 2007 raid, which is expected in May.

New Zealand Herald 26/4/13


Double-shot Tasers in police trial

Police will have 24-hour access to double-shot Taser stun guns during an operational trial of the new technology.

Twenty officers in the Wellington district are being trained to use the new X2 stun guns, which police are evaluating as a replacement for the current X26 model.

The double-shot stun guns can fire a second charge without having to reload, unlike the older model, which need to be manually reloaded after each charge is fired.

Otago Daily Times 30/4/13



Prisoner safety in spotlight after two deaths

Two prisoners have died in suspected suicides in Christchurch prisons in three weeks, sparking independent investigations by the Corrections Inspectorate.

A Christchurch Women's Prison inmate was rushed to Christchurch Hospital after being found in her cell shortly after 9pm on Saturday, but she was declared dead after arrival.  Her death came only two weeks after that of an inmate at Christchurch Men's Prison on April 7.

Howard League for Penal Reform spokeswoman Madeleine Rose said the deaths showed Corrections was "failing" to fulfil its duty to protect prisoners.  However, Corrections' Southern Regional Commissioner Ian Bourke said both incidents were being taken very seriously, and that the circumstances of both would be reviewed. The independent Corrections Inspectorate would also investigate, monitored by the Office of the Ombudsmen. Police were notified and the deaths had been referred to the coroner.

Bourke said two prisoner deaths in two weeks in Christchurch were unusual. There had not been a prisoner death at Christchurch Women's Prison for about six years, and that the department took "every practical step" to prevent prisoners harming themselves.  This included a recent change to the risk assessment tools, which provides a checklist to help staff identify a prisoner's risk.  The new mental health-screening tool implemented in June last year also improved Corrections' ability to detect mental illness in prisoners at an early stage.  A senior manager also met with a psychiatrist to discuss prisoner management planning.

Rose however said the rate of suicide in prison was 11 times higher than in society, and that since 2002 70 deaths in New Zealand prisons had been ruled suicide.

The Press 22/4/13


Prison care queried after inmate given wrong drugs

Rimutaka Prison's care for its prisoners has been questioned after one fell into a coma for five days when he was given unsuitable medication, according to his lawyer.

The prisoner had been prescribed medication for a shoulder injury, but after his prescription ran out, the prisoner, who has serious liver problems, had to wait three days for a replacement script and was given ibuprofen and the anti-inflammatory drug Voltaren as pain relief in the interim.  He says he was given no instructions with the drugs or told that he should not take Voltaren on an empty stomach.

A few days later he began to feel unwell and lapsed into a hepatic coma, which is caused by liver failure.  He required two blood transfusions and was comatose for five days, spending three weeks in hospital, most of it in intensive care.

In a written statement, Corrections Department offender health director Bronwyn Donaldson said the prisoner had received appropriate care and his medical records showed he was given his medication as prescribed, and that the department was funded to provide primary health service to prisoners that was "reasonably equivalent" to that accessed by the general community.

The Dominion Post 22/4/13


Coroner’s report highlights procedural faults in Dixon case

Convicted murderer Antoine Dixon was seen naked, bleeding and with a cloth cord from his anti-suicide gown tied around his neck seven minutes before Corrections staff entered his cell at Auckland Prison on the day he died from self-strangulation.

Officers found Dixon unresponsive and he was pronounced less than 30 minutes later.

In his finding released today, Coroner Garry Evans said Dixon may still be alive had been he treated differently in the days before the incident. Coroner Evans said the "sad case" highlighted several procedural faults in the prison service.  However, a Corrections spokesperson said despite efforts to reduce self-harm in prison "it is extremely difficult to stop someone who is determined to harm themselves."

In the days before his death Dixon was dehydrated, malnourished and believed authorities wanted him dead. Dixon had attempted self-strangulation three days earlier at Auckland Central Remand Prison (ACRP) by tearing material from a suicide prevention gown before being found by officers. He was then transferred to Auckland Prison at Paremoremo because he required a "tie-down bed" that was unavailable at ACRP.

At 8.55pm on February 4, a Corrections officer at the prison's high-risk unit heard a thud coming from Dixon's cell.  The officer, whose name is suppressed, switched on the light and saw Dixon standing behind the cell door with a cloth cord around his neck and bleeding from his head.  He requested support because Dixon was had been deemed so dangerous there had to be four officers present before his cell could be unlocked.  The door was opened at 9.02pm and CPR was started until emergency services arrived. Dixon was pronounced dead at 9.30pm.

Expert witness Dr Peter Freedman, director of emergency medicine at Rotorua and Taupo hospitals, told the inquest that had the tie around Dixon's neck had been removed earlier and CPR started sooner he may have survived. 

Coroner Evans found a number of faults with Dixon's treatment and prisoner procedure.  Had he been transferred to a mental health unit and continuously monitored, it is unlikely he would have died he said. 

Coroner Evans recommended risk management plans to record prisoners' physical and mental health and other issues that put them at risk. Such plans have now been implemented by Corrections.

A review of procedures for prisoner cell and location checks and incident response should also be carried out. Officers should be reminded of exceptions to unlocking policy such as when a prisoner is in imminent danger, said Coroner Evans.

Northern Correction Services regional manager Jeanette Burns defended the requirement for four officers in Dixon's case, citing his "mental state, his history of threats to staff, his erratic behaviour and his martial arts expertise".  However, it was unacceptable it took seven minutes for his cell to be unlocked, she said.

Since Dixon's death a response team is always available and a new mental health screening tool helps to detect mild or moderate mental illness at an early stage, she said, and a senior manager meets a psychiatrist to discuss a prisoner's management plan.

New Zealand Herald 22/4/13



Inland Revenue Launches New Report On Information Sharing

Inland Revenue has released research that explores the potential impact on the integrity of New Zealand’s tax system of sharing taxpayer information with other government departments to prevent serious crime.

Deputy Commissioner Mary Craig said that although this information is not currently shared with other government departments due to tax secrecy, the Government is looking at whether this could happen, with the right privacy safeguards, to help prevent serious crime and bring offenders to justice.

Ms Craig said the research acknowledged the need to ensure customer confidentiality is maintained and that any information shared is balanced with the risk of error and its misuse.

Deloitte Dunedin tax partner Peter Truman raised concerns about the potential sharing between government agencies of information gathered by Inland Revenue.

If information was to pass from IRD to other government agencies, there needed to be an independent review of the basis for passing the information, to determine whether the information request was appropriate and that taxpayer rights were being protected.  ''A decision to pass information should not rest solely with public servants,'' Mr Truman said. 11/4/13 & Otago Daily Times 11/4/13


The law and surveillance cameras

Security footage from newly installed $37,000 security cameras in Howick Village could not be used against two suspected shoplifters because there were no signs warning the area was under surveillance.

Legislation requires the placement of signs telling people that cameras are in operation and failure to do so means the video cannot be used in court.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner released a guide to CCTV use in 2009. It states that people need to be made aware their personal information is being collected and why, and advises, "Erect signs both near the CCTV cameras and at the perimeter of the CCTV system's range." 12/4/13


Sex offender lost job after being named on website

A convicted paedophile claims he was sacked from his high-paying job as a company CEO when a website published details of his offending.

The Director of Human Rights Proceedings told a Human Rights Tribunal hearing at the Auckland District Court that the 58-year-old had his privacy breached by the Sensible Sentencing Trust (SST).  The Trust refused to permanently remove the man's name and offending details from its website after a court minute revealed no record of a permanent suppression order the man claimed he was granted when he was sentenced to 12 months' prison in 1995.

In October 2009 the man's lawyer wrote to the SST, which removed the man's details temporarily.  When they were republished in November that year a complaint was made to the Privacy Commissioner, which investigated and formed an opinion that the Trust "had interfered with the aggrieved person's privacy".

Simon Judd, acting for the Director of Human Rights Proceedings, told a court there was "scope for huge damage to be done" to the man and his wife if he was not granted interim name suppression.  He said the alleged breach of the man's privacy would be debated later this year, at which point the Human Rights Tribunal would also rule on whether the man deserved permanent suppression.

Mr. Judd said the man's name needed to be suppressed in the meantime, and that when he was convicted of five offences in 1995 articles in the press the following day did not name him.  Mr. Judd said the fact other court stories in the same day's newspaper named other offenders showed there was "a reasonable and proper inference to be drawn … that the name was suppressed".

The commissioner also found that the official police report on the man had been "wrongfully obtained from the police computer" before it was circulated to the offender's employers.

David Garrett, representing the SST, said the organisation would fight the bid to suppress the man's name in the interest of open justice.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Review Tribunal has issued an interim ruling prohibiting publication of any details of the convicted paedophile on whose behalf the Director of Human Rights Proceedings is prosecuting the Sensible Sentencing Trust for allegedly breaching the offender’s privacy. The ruling also precludes any publication of details about the offender’s partner or her business.

New Zealand Herald 17/4/13 & 26/4/13



Law will allow seizure of phones

Schools may soon be able to seize pupils' mobile phones and search through their contents for evidence of cyber-bullying.

The Education Amendment Bill, will include increased powers to seize pupils' phones and laptops to search for dangerous messages written on social media websites and in text messages, and request police sniffer dogs. Schools would be able to use the dogs to sniff out drugs in lockers and desks, but not on pupils.

Most principals and the Ministry of Education see the changes as a positive step to curb bullying, but others in the sector fear it could damage the relationship schools have with pupils and their parents. 

The Human Rights Commission has advised that the rules need to be clear to avoid schools impinging on pupils' property rights.

Dominion Post 6/4/13


Sniffer Dogs find no evidence of drugs in schools

Drug dogs have visited two South Canterbury schools this year but no substances were found at either school.

Mountainview High School and Waimate High School, which had checks recently, both came out clean after the visits.  Waimate High School principal Janette Packman said it was "very pleasing". It was six months since the last check, which was also clear, she said.

There was a cost involved but it was worthwhile, she said.  The school had run checks at random for the past four years and in each case no drugs were discovered.

Timaru Herald 22/4/13



At Least 85 New Zealanders illegally spied upon

The release of a critical report on the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) has revealed that the GCSB may have unlawfully spied on at least 85 people while acting for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS).  While the law bars the GCSB from spying on New Zealanders, there is a grey area when it was asked to do so by another organisation, like police or the SIS, who were authorised.

In response the Government is set to widen the powers of the GCSB to give it the ability to spy on New Zealanders.

Dominion Post 9/4/13 & 10/4/13