Liberty Watch – August 2011
Round-up of civil liberty news for August 2011.
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
Government Accused of Choking the Voice of Young People on Policing Bill
Parliament passed under urgency the retroactive Policing (Storage of Youth Particulars) Amendment Bill, closing a legal loophole that prevented police from keeping records of young offenders unless they had been convicted in the District Court. The Government’s decision to take the Bill under urgency has effectively silenced the voice of young people on legislation which has the potential to impact significantly on their lives, said Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment.
“I can understand why government didn’t want to take this legislation through a democratic process. We are hearing a whole lot of stories from young people about abuse of Police powers, and in particular, the high incidence of ethnic profiling. The last thing government needs right now, is to call for public submissions, and have these stories in the public domain”, she added.
Abuse checks on all children called for
A coroner, Dr Bain, has called for compulsory state monitoring of all children until they are 5, with scheduled and unscheduled visits to homes. He also called for compulsory state intervention wherever there has been domestic or child violence in households, and for children living in single-parent families, as well as significant penalties for those who fail to report child abuse. Other suggestions were the creation of an anonymous 0800 number for reporting child abuse, compulsory information-sharing between Government agencies, health providers and others, with the Privacy Act over-ridden where necessary, and mandatory reporting by early childhood facilities and schools.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said many of Dr Bain's recommendations, including the mandatory monitoring of vulnerable children, mirrored ideas raised in the Government's green paper.
New Zealand Herald 26/8/11
Drunken caregivers 'should be tested'
The head of New Zealand's child death review committee is calling for blood testing adults suspected of being drunk when a child dies from an accident or assault.
Dr Nick Baker, who chairs the Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee, says parental intoxication is a factor in New Zealand having the developed world's highest rate of sudden unexplained deaths of infants (SUDI), and in many deaths in places such as driveways and swimming pools, yet police did not have powers to blood test adults who were responsible for the children when they died.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor said breath testing or blood testing parents after a child had died would imply the parent was to blame even though it may have been a genuine accident.
He said "I have attended many cot deaths in my career and I would certainly not like to be breath testing parents in those situations where it's almost apportioning blame."
New Zealand Herald 27/8/11
Teachers given 'search and seize' powers
Teachers have been given the power to search students – including their cell phones, diaries and laptops.
The guidelines given to schools stipulate how searches should be conducted and give suggestions on when it would be appropriate to make searches – such as an imminent threat of danger or harm to other students.
New Zealand Herald 26/8/11
Child smacking book called to be banned
A book,To Train Up a Child, written by fundamentalist United States Christians Michael and Debi Pearl, teaches parents how to smack, thump and pull children's hair as a way of disciplining them, has been removed by
Whitcoulls from its website after a complaint.
The Internal Affairs Department's Censorship Compliance Unit said the book's content would be examined.
On Radio New Zealand Civil Liberties Council chairman Batch Hales said he believes the book is dangerous, as people may use it to justify abusing children and advocates a culture that New Zealand is desperately trying to get away from. A Californian couple in America were convicted of murder after following the book's instructions and subsequently beat their seven-year-old adopted daughter to death.
New Zealand Herald 24/8/11
Police called 'obscene' in Christchurch looter case
The police's handling of a man with Asperger's syndrome caught looting after the Christchurch earthquake has been described as "cruel and obscene" after the case was dropped.
Despite being asked three times by the courts, police had denied Smith-Voorkamp diversion, which allows first offenders to escape a criminal conviction.
Police said an offender had to admit guilt before they could get diversion, and Smith-Voorkamp has pleaded not guilty.
Smith-Voorkamp was arrested for allegedly taking light fittings from a damaged Lincoln Rd, Addington, property, and possession of tools for burglary, after the February 22 quake.
The 25-year-old has said he had been obsessed with light fittings for most of his life and could not resist his urges, which were fuelled by his Asperger's syndrome.
The Press 4/8/11
Bill to rein in legal aid costs introduced
A bill to change the legal aid system and save $138 million over four years has been introduced to Parliament.
The Legal Assistance (Sustainability) Amendment Bill will make 10 changes to the scheme, including tightening the merits test for family cases, adjusting the special circumstances test, re-introducing a user charge of $100 for family and civil cases and introducing compulsory repayment orders.
New Zealand herald 11/8/11
No cars flattened
No cars have been crushed under a controversial two-year-old law that promised a crackdown on boy racers. The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill was passed in October 2009 and it gave courts the power to send cars owned by people who committed three serious vehicle offences in four years to the crusher.
New Zealand Herald 15/8/11
Urewera raid costs tipped to be millions
The Government has declared spending at least $750,000 on the controversial Urewera raids and their long-running sequel – with some saying the final bill could be for millions.
Law Society president Jonathan Temm said by the time this trial is finished, it is likely to be the most expensive trial in our criminal history.
New Zealand Herald 20/8/11
Victim impact law changes welcomed
The father of Dunedin murder victim Sophie Elliott says families should be able to say what they want in victim impact statements, and welcomes Government moves in that direction.
Justice Minister Simon Power has introduced the Victims of Crime Reform Bill to Parliament. The Bill will make a range of changes, among them clearer guidelines around victim impact statements.
"As there are currently no guidelines governing victim impact statements case law has evolved around what cannot be said, including an outline of the offence and opinions or comment on the offender," Mr Power said.
"This has lead to the unacceptable situation where a victim is effectively censored so they don't offend the offender."
Gil Elliott's statement on the impact of his daughter's death, Sophie Elliott, had entire sections crossed out at the judge's request, before it was read in court.
If passed, the bill will allow photographs and children's drawings to be submitted as part of victim impact statements. Victims of serious crime would have an automatic right to read their statement in court and also be able to attend Youth Court and submit a statement.
New Zealand Law Society family law section chairman Antony Mahon told Radio New Zealand admitting children’s’ drawings were not necessarily a positive move.
"Pictures are fraught, there is research to say that pictures can be quite misleading and even those experts don't agree about what pictures often mean," he said. "I don't personally think it's an advancement for children's rights to have them directly involved in victim impact statements like this.”
Other changes included ensuring victims got more information about offenders bail and sentences, complaint processes for victims and a Victims' Code to improve the responsiveness and accountability of justice sector agencies to victims.
The code would ensure prosecutors took reasonable steps to contact all victims of serious crime, meet family members before trial, and ensure victims were promptly informed of changes to charges.
New Zealand Herald 17/8/11
Policeman escapes conviction
A police detective who rang his boss while being processed for drink-driving used the call to get off the charge in court – exploiting a loophole which could be used by hundreds of alcohol-impaired drivers.
A Detective Constable at Counties Manukau CIB successfully defended the charge at the Auckland District Court on the grounds that he was not given an uninterrupted 10 minutes to decide if he wanted a blood test.
His 10 minutes of think time were considered to have been interrupted after he asked – and was allowed – to ring his boss.
New Zealand Herald 21/8/11
The lack of statistics about disabled people in the workplace is a major problem, says Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.
“It means we often cannot analyse where disabled people are working, where they get jobs, how many hours they work and which jobs they want. We also don’t know enough about employers’ attitudes.”
For this reason the Human Rights Commission has produced a new report Tracking Equality at Work for Disabled People.
The report confirms that disabled people find getting a decent job is one of their most significant challenges.
Statistic New Zealand's Quarterly Employment Survey for June shows a per hour pay gap of 13% compared to 12.6% last quarter, and an annual weekly income gap of 17.4% up from 17%.
Web pirate net nabbing innocent
Innocent internet users could easily become entangled in new copyright laws even if they're not pirating movies or music, a web expert warns, but internetNZ's chief executive, Vikram Kumar, said anyone using peer-to-peer software, even for legitimate purposes, could receive warning notices.
Peer-to-peer is a method of connecting computers that lets users search for, and download, files stored on each of the individual systems that are part of the network.
The software was popular with music and movie pirates, but Kumar said it was used in a wide range of industries – such as the research and innovation sector – to distribute large amounts of information easily.
However, third parties employed by rights holders to catch internet pirates were already sending out warnings to peer-to-peer users, even if there was no real evidence they were illegally downloading.
"This is an indirect method of [copyright policing]. It's one of the low-cost methods used and it tends to throw up a lot of false accusations."
Given the burden of proof in the new law falls on those accused of copyright infringement, Kumar recommended those without a background in computing should stop using peer-to-peer software altogether.
internetNZ has set up a website – http://3strikes.net.nz/ – with information about the new law.
New Zealand Herald 6/8/11
Holocaust denial online may become illegal in NZ
Posting racist or xenophobic messages on the internet and Holocaust denial could be illegal if New Zealand signs up to a international cyber-crime agreement.
Justice Minister Simon Power and Police Minister Judith Collins announced a three-year plan to crack down on international organised crime. One proposal involves the Government signing the Council of Europe Cyber Crime Convention, also known as the Budapest Convention.
A protocol of the convention requires nations to make "the dissemination of racist and xenophobic material through computer systems" a crime. It also makes denial or justification of the Holocaust and other verified genocides illegal.
An omnibus bill would come before Parliament next year, if National is re-elected.
MISUSE OF DRUGS
Retailers may fight Kronic ban
A Government ban on the sale of all synthetic cannabis products could spark legal action from the industry, a retailer says.
An urgent bill to ban synthetic cannabis such as Kronic will be considered by Parliament today.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the law would be in place by Friday and all 43 current products on the market were expected to be out of shops just over a week later.
Cabinet has approved amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill that would take synthetic cannabis off the market for 12 months, while the Government works on its detailed response to a Law Commission report, which recommends reversing the onus of proof and require the industry to prove its products are safe.
Hemp Store co-owner Chris Fowlie said the Misuse of Drugs Act required the classification of drugs to be based on evidence and Mr Dunne was ignoring that.
Otago Daily Times 2/8/11
The SIS yesterday launched a website so the public can confidentially and anonymously pass on sensitive information.
The online form says: "As part of the community, you may have information which can contribute to defending and enhancing New Zealand's security, reputation, economic well-being and way of life."
It asks you to notify the SIS "if you believe you have: information of national security concern; or have seen or heard something suspicious that the NZSIS may be interested in". The submitter must classify information as "important and urgent", "important but not urgent", or of "general concern".
Identifying yourself and supplying contact information are optional.
The online form will work in tandem with the freephone line (0800 SIS 224), in place since 2001.
New Zealand Herald 19/8/11
GCSB gets judgment against Waihopai 3 without full hearing
High Court associate Judge David Gendall delivered his summary judgement ruling in relation to the Crown Civil suit of the three Waihopai Christian activists. In a 15 page decision Judge Gendall concluded that the defences raised by the three peacemakers fails to make the threshold for an arguable case and has awarded damages against the three men pre-emptively without allowing the case to proceed to a trial.
In contrast, after eight days of evidence at the activists’ criminal trial in March last year, a jury ruled the men not guilty of all criminal charges.
Cameras in Taxis
The taxi cameras law change, which applies to about 6700 taxis, says each cab must have operating security camera and taxi companies must run a 24-hour call centre.
Christchurch is exempt from the change because of the earthquakes and has until May 1 to install cameras.
Those towns and cities affected are Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Wellington, Nelson, Dunedin, Queenstown and Invercargill.
Taxi companies have reassured passengers they would not access footage from cameras in cabs without police authority. Auckland Taxi Co-Op director Robert Van Heiningen said taxi drivers could not access footage.
The regulations required each company to appoint one person who could access footage. They had to keep a log of what footage was viewed and why.
N Z Police spokesman Grant Ogilvie said police would only release footage to media if it helped with criminal investigations.
New Zealand Herald 7/8/11
Freedom campers face $200 instant penalty
he Freedom Camping Bill was passed under urgency and is expected to take effect on September 1. It was rushed through Parliament to "capture" the visitors expected to hit NZ shores for the Rugby World Cup.
Councils and the Department of Conservation will have the power to restrict freedom camping from specific areas, and fine people $200 for breaking the law; a heftier fine of up to $10,000 can be sought for more serious breaches such as dumping waste.
But concerns have been raised that the new law will capture outdoors-lovers who head away on a Friday night and camp on the roadside before a weekend of hiking, mountaineering, fishing or hunting.
The act defines freedom camping as camping within 200m of a road, road end or the low-water line of the sea or harbour.
Exemptions include "temporary and short-term parking", day-trip excursions and resting or sleeping in a car.
*Local authorities will be able to ban freedom camping, defined as camping within 200m of a road, road end or the low-water line of the sea or harbour.
*Freedom camping in these spots could lead to an instant $200 fine; more serious breaches could incur a $10,000 fine.
*Making preparations to freedom-camp where it is banned could incur a $200 fine, as could damaging any area, or dumping waste inappropriately.
New Zealand Herald 18/8/11
Mental health concerns over Tasers
The Mental Health Foundation is calling for a formal review of police use of Tasers after figures released show four out of 10 of those tasered in the past year were experiencing mental health issues.
Numbers released by Police Minister Judith Collins this week showed that 37 of the 88 people tasered by police in the 11 months to August were "judged to be experiencing a mental health issue".
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements, "We were concerned from the beginning it would not be used as a last resort, it would become something that was normal in use.
New Zealand Herald 26/8/11
Clampdown on running businesses from prison
he Corrections Department is about introduce new rules to stop prisoners running businesses after a murderer was able to run help run an imports business from behind bars.
The new rules require all sentenced prisoners to declare any self-employment activities, which will then be assessed for approval, which would only be granted in "exceptional circumstances".
New Zealand Herald 27/8/11
Massive overhaul recommended for Privacy Act
The Law Commission is recommending a massive overhaul of the Privacy Act providing stronger enforcement measures and changes that alternately offer better protection of individual privacy and make it easier for government agencies to bulk share private information.
Changes protecting individuals include a statutory "Do Not Call Register" which would allow New Zealanders to register their choice not to receive telephone-marketing calls.
The Commission also recommends the current exemption for personal or domestic information should not apply if the collection or disclosure of the information would be highly offensive. The change would deal with situations such as when a person posts naked photographs of their ex-partner online without consent.
A key change, if the Commission's recommendations are accepted, would see agencies – which have lost personal data, or had it stolen through hacking or other means – required to notify victims of the data breach.
"People have a right to know if their information has been compromised in a serious way," said Law Commissioner Professor John Burrows.
The commission has also grappled with how the internet changes notions of privacy and recommends clarifying the Act so that "publication" of personal information includes the internet.
It also addresses concerns about the flow of information across country borders and how information can now be held in a nebulous "cloud" of computers located overseas.
The Commission points out protection other countries may not meet New Zealand standards and recommends putting new obligations on agencies to check before they send or store information overseas that privacy will be protected.
On the issue of data matching across government agencies which some see as creeping Big Brother government and ways to monitor citizens' every move, the commission argues there are many good reasons for government departments to share personal information.
Examples cited include collaboration to provide one-stop-shops and "smarter" services, plus working across agencies to tackle social problems such as child abuse.
At the moment such sharing is not always possible under the Privacy Act and the government has had to pass legislation to specifically override the Act.
New Zealand Herald 2/8/11
No-turbans-allowed email racist, says Sikh job hunter
A leading security company has apologised for saying in a job recruitment email that staff are not allowed to wear turbans. General manager Mike Rutherford told the Herald there was no turban ban at First Security and the email "was the result of a misunderstanding by the person who authored the correspondence".
The Human Rights Commission said banning turbans would be potentially unlawful.
New Zealand Herald 8/8/11
Outrage at 'racist' pamphlet
Its alright to be WHITE, Be Proud" pamphlets which have been dropped through mail boxes and doors, in Blenheim. Right wing organizer Kyle Chapman said the messages were not racist and should not be viewed that way. "It is simply a recruitment drive and we are targeting like-minded people, it is not malicious" he said.
Mr Chapman said the messages were posted in random mail boxes during the weekend recruitment drive. He estimated thousands had gone out across the country.
Marlborough Express 16/8/11
IRD can recall student loans under new law
The Inland Revenue Department will now be able to recall student loans in full under legislation passed by Parliament.
Revenue Minister Peter Dunne said the vast majority of borrowers met their repayment requirements and had no reason to worry, but serious defaulters would be dealt with.
New Zealand Herald 20/8/11